I have been thinking a lot lately about the story of Mary and Martha: sisters with very different temperaments in the gospels. They have come to mind frequently of late because I feel that I have been being very much a 'Martha.' I don't believe what Martha did in the story - or her life choices - were at all 'wrong' or 'sinful.' I see her as a woman who lived much like I have been living; doing the next thing she saw that needed to be done. If people needed to be fed, she got busy and prepared food and fed them, then cleaned up the mess. I see Martha as a woman who was perhaps worn out, because there would always be something needing to be done. After guests were fed, and the mess cleaned up, probably beds would need to be prepared for Jesus and others spending the night. A long day was ahead for busy Martha, and to see her sister 'relaxing' (in Martha's eyes) at Jesus' feet might just have tipped her over the end of her exhaustion. I know that feeling. I totally empathize with Martha.
I am not sure the teaching I've always heard about this story, about these two women, totally hits the mark. The point I've heard made is that, on that day, at that time, Mary made the 'better choice' to learn from Jesus rather than busy herself with anything else. Of course, that is true, but I believe Jesus knew these women better than that; I believe he was teaching with more depth than that single moment in time. He knew Martha was resenting being the one who always look care of the needs of those around her. He knew she was jealous of her sister, and He knew she was wearing herself out. Mary, on the other hand, was probably no sloth. I don't believe Jesus could have praised that lifestyle at all. I'm sure she did not always sit, letting her sister do all the work. But I believe Mary knew her own limits and her own needs, while perhaps Martha did not. Mary could choose what she needed, and even put her own spiritual needs before the needs of others at times. I believe Jesus praised Mary for that because He also sometimes left the crowds and the very real needs and demands of others to refill Himself spiritually. Sometimes, it is important to take care of our own needs. Jesus knew that, far before pop psychologists did. If we burn out, even in doing good (or just 'necessary') things for others, we empty ourselves, and become resentful, exhausted, sick and whiney, much like Martha.
Martha - I'm betting she was the first one called when stomachs were empty, or when a child was sick, or when a class needed a teacher at synagogue. But I think Mary would have been the one others would turn to for comfort, laughter, friendship, and love. She was not 'used up.' She remembered the important thing: that she needed to refill her own cup, so she would have overflow to give to others.