The Lutheran Service Book has a hymn called One Thing's Needed about Mary (sitting at the feet of Jesus in the Mary and Martha story). Here are some lines that annoy me - "How were Mary's thoughts devoted, her eternal joy to find." "How kindled her heart, how devout was its feeling." "All earthly concerns she forgot for her Lord."
Would we say these things about Peter as he sat at Jesus's feet? Were the male disciples sitting at Jesus feet and listening to his teaching forgetting their earthly concerns? Were they following Jesus to find the kind of eternal joy we associate with these lines?
This kind of casting of Jesus and the Kingdom as some sort of spiritual nirvana obscures the revolutionary nature of the Kingdom, and it un-mans humanity, it takes us and even Jesus himself out of history. And it also cheapens what Mary was about. Mary was hearing the call to discipleship, she was moving to the front lines of the revolution. It was a brave move by Mary to hear the call to discipleship as the same for women as it was for men - a call to trust and follow him as he changes heaven and earth.
Martha's problem with Mary wasn't that Mary was being lazy or emotional or taking a mystical break. Martha's problem with Mary was that in her mind Mary had no business being there. It was a social problem, and an anthropological problem, and one that most of the male disciples were probably thinking to themselves in that moment too.
Martha thinks a faithful woman is one who concerns herself with the types of things she is doing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing those things, and faithfulness can and often does require that kind of service. But Martha needs to learn that discipleship is one calling for all, a higher calling. And it is the One calling that clarifies and glorifies all callings, it clarifies the very things she is doing. A calling that should relieve her anxiety by subordinating her work within "the good portion."
There aren't two types of discipleship, there is one. And we start there as we seek to be faithful in our vocations. Jesus reorganizes their concept of faithful discipleship by lifting up humanity (including women) as co-laborers with the King himself as servant warriors.
Maybe Mary was being like the hymn describes. Spiritual devotion is good, eternal reflection if good, internal joy is good. But if that is all we describe her as we are missing the revolutionary guts of what was happening. We are going against the very point of the story by creating a different species of discipleship for Mary and Martha than what male disciples are called to. We know this is a problem and, unfortunately, the way we often try to fix this false duality is by promoting and elevating the wrong species as being the true discipleship.