Mary and Martha
Hospitality is still a sacred obligation in much of the Middle East and, let's face it, women still do a lot of the work. And it was way before deli counters. A friend of mine who is a devotee of St. Martha (and gave me a Martha medal when I was confirmed ... I try to remember to wear it when I'm being Ms. Practical around the church, or feel the need to charm some dragons) has argued that Martha was in a lot of ways trying to keep her sister out of trouble by asking that Mary come help her in the kitchen. Mary was in on the teaching, which involved a lot of give and take. The idea of a woman being involved with that would be quite shocking at the time and might attract unwanted attention from the religious establishment, or at least nasty gossip in the neighborhood.
Of course, I still think that Martha needed some help. I can sure relate to the distractedness thing.
Martha's realism extended to the spiritual plane. In the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) she tells Jesus that she believes He is the Christ, no shilly-shallying about it.
In a lot of ways I think that I've made a shift from entirely contemplative in my practice to much more active. I was definitely a Big Thinker as a girl, and not much practical good; now I spend a lot of time at the church setting out plates and washing cups. Feeding the multitudes, whichever context I'm doing it in, is important and useful work. People are hungry, physically and spiritually, and someone has to concern themselves with the details.
Martha as the patron of cooks and housekeepers has quite a following among the Latino community; I got a vela (candle) from my local Mexican grocery, and a stamped-tin Mexican-style icon of Martha the compassionate caregiver in Santa Fe.
I can see how Martha's stock may be a little low to those who were shunted into that sort of practical make-it-happen role without much choice in the matter, but I am a product of a supportive family and second-wave feminism so I didn't "have to". I also get a lot of thanks for the practical ""women's"" (men do it at my church too) work I do, which hasn't always been the case in the Church (rolls eyes). Just following the raising of Lazarus story in John, the account picks up again and starts steaming into the Passion story when Jesus has dinner again at Bethany. John says that Martha served while Mary anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. Martha made Mary's extravagant gesture possible.
The sisters are celebrated together, which I think is a good thing; I'm working on the balance between "Mary" and "Martha" in my own life.