It is interesting that Jesus does not try to convince Martha to give up her kitchen work to join Mary at his feet. He only affirms Mary’s choice as the better way, and leaves Martha to go back to the dishes if she chooses. God lets me make choices — altruistic, selfish, good, foolish or just plain bad — while reminding me of what is healthy and life-giving.
God lets us make our own choices and live with them. If we worry about the menu and the dishes instead of sitting and listening with him, we will not be condemned — but we will have the satisfaction and stress of putting on the party and will not have the benefit of the time with God.
This reading is paired with a section of Jonah 3 in the lectionary. The parallel I see is that both Jonah and Martha have very rigid expectations of God, that the God-thing is doing the “respectable, responsible thing.” Martha thinks Mary should help serve (remember, in this time, men were disciples and women served), and Jonah things the Ninevites should pay for their wrongs. Reasonable enough, on the surface. Jonah even tells God, “I knew you were sheer grace and mercy” as if this is a bad thing! Well, if you are looking for God to be a defender of the status quo, then the radical grace and revised priorities in these texts (choosing Jesus over a pre-defined expectation, choosing to seek restoration rather than punish) is bad news! In both cases God responds with room for people to choose the better way.
Mary and the king of Nineveh know one important thing…there are times, whether because you recognize God’s presence with you or you are reminded of how far you have strayed, when you need to stop, sit down, fast from food or work or whatever is getting in your way, and be with God.