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Feast of Mary and Martha

Feast of Mary and Martha

written by Terri Pilarski


If I had served on the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music when the scripture readings for the  feast day of Mary and Martha had been selected, I would have supported this passage from Gospel of Luke (10:38-42) when Martha complains to Jesus about Mary. This passage, according to Mary Stromer Hanson, is far more interesting than simply one sister working hard while complaining about another sister not pulling her weight. And it is definitely not about Jesus chastising Martha and telling her to be more like Mary. If one engages the interpretation of Greek as Hanson does, the passage reads like this: Mary and Martha are each disciples of Jesus doing ministry in the world. Mary is off, out of town, away with other disciples doing ministry in the world. Martha is doing ministry in her home town and she is anxious to the point a panic attack. She is anxious because Mary is away, she wants her sister near her, home with her, doing ministry in their home town. She is worried for Mary and anxious. Jesus hears Martha and calls her back into her-self, back into her work and ministry in the town, while also assuring her that Mary is fine out in the world. In other words, Jesus supports each woman being who she is and doing the ministry they are doing as they are doing it. Here are the words that Hanson interprets, which spins this story on its head: Persiapo (distracted); Diakonian (ministry); Thorybaze (agitated); Pollos (many things). Martha is distracted from doing her ministry because she is agitated about many things…particularly about Mary being away (sitting at the feet of Jesus actually means off being a disciple, not literally sitting). 


For me, the amazing point of Hanson’s interpretation (from her book, The New Perspective on Mary and Martha, 2013) is how it differs from the traditional interpretation that I have preached on for nearly twenty years. There is a far more holistic understanding of the power of women in ministry with the notion that both women were disciples doing ministry in the world. There’s even a sense of affirmation for me in the idea that Martha is tired from doing ministry. Anyone who has done ministry in the world can relate to Martha’s agitation.

resurge reviews This work is exhausting. Even more so now perhaps in the age of COVID-19 when ministry in the world has taken on cyber dimensions that require tons of new learning and experimenting and failure and sometimes things working well. That Jesus hears her and affirms her and encourages her to keep going is something that each of could use right about now. Or at least I could.


I’m hungry this morning.

Hungry for something to fill me

Not so much the filling that comes from food,

although it is that too – 

like the cappuccino chip muffin I had once

or the rich cinnamon scone with icing

and a cup of strong coffee –

but it’s more than food that I am hungry for.


I need the kind of nourishment that will

keep me fortified for the work ahead,

this day and in the days to come.

I need the kind of nourishment that will

give me energy to persevere in these 

covid-times, when everything has changed.


I need the kind of nourishment that gives me

brain power and heart strength to do the deep

work I am doing, this anti-racism work

on self and society, which is work that 

for me, in my life time, will never be complete.


I need the kind of sustenance that is intended

for the long run, the marathon of effort.


This hunger can be temporarily sated by food,

but the real yearning, the true craving, is 

beyond actual food for the physical body.


It is soul food. It is spirit food. It is gut food.

It is heart food. It is God-food. It’s sacramental.


And, I don’t mean the Sunday morning sacrament.

Although I mean that too. 

But I mean it when it is the form of

dangerous, transformative, sacramental food 

that is life-food,

food for life, food that helps one

endure and gives one the

will and the courage and the

energy to change.

I am hungry God. 



Photo: A personal photo of the rector’s desk on a random day.


The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski lives in Dearborn, Michigan and serves as the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church. She is invested in intercultural relationships, organizing to build awareness of and dismantle prejudice, discrimination, and racism particularly in the context of interfaith communities. 


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