Martha and Me – Part 2

May 8, 2013

(This was originally posted quite a while ago when I had about 10 followers.  It’s something I feel my readers now will appreciate and something I was recently reminded of for myself so I’m reposting it) Last week, I shared something I have been learning from Jesus’ interaction with Martha.  That spurred me to look into the other Mary and Martha story.  Maybe I’ve been overlooking a key aspect to that story too.

All of us who grew up in the church know the story… Jesus comes and stays at two sisters’ home.  Martha (who I always assumed was the older sister) slaves away in the kitchen, grumbling and complaining about how she has to do all the cooking and cleaning to serve Jesus and the disciples.  Mary, on the other hand, daintily sits at Jesus’ feet, listening, and is enraptured in all the amazing things her Savior is saying.  Martha comes out fuming, angry that Mary isn’t helping, and Jesus puts her in her place.  He tells her she shouldn’t be preparing food, she should be sitting next to Mary listening to Him.  Martha = someone we shouldn’t be.  Mary = the person we all should strive to become.  That’s the lesson of the story. Growing up, I watched shows like The Donut Man, depicting the Mary and Martha story like this… (Did anyone else grow up on The Donut Man, Psalty the Singing Song Book, and Gilbert??? Yeah they were awesome)

But here’s the problem.  I’ve, once again, always related to Martha and not to Mary.  If someone important were coming to my house, I would be preparing food, cleaning my house, and even decorating to show how much I value that person.  I’m a natural hostess.  It’s something I love to do.  In being told or reading this story, I put myself in Martha’s shoes.  She’s trying to be hospitable and her little sister won’t help!  Augh!  As someone with five younger sisters, most of whom are not natural hostesses, I know that would tick me off too.  But, instead of Jesus either sending Mary to help or thanking Martha for how much work she’s doing, he tells Martha she shouldn’t be working and should be sitting and listening. To be honest, sometimes this story leaves me frustrated at Jesus.  I know, that’s really not a good thing to say but what I mean is, it seems as though Jesus doesn’t appreciate the work Martha’s doing.  He seems not to think dinner needs to made for a bunch of hungry men.  It seems as though he would rather we put all our work aside and just listen, shirking all other responsibilities.  Is sitting and listening all that’s important?  That’s how I’ve always heard this story interpreted and it’s never sat right with me.   Yes, we need to be listening to and learning from Jesus but we can’t just throw off all our responsibilities either. So, what did I do?  I dug into the passage.  One of the first things I did was read the preceding section of scripture (because if I learned anything at Multnomah, it’s context, context, context).  First, we have the story of Jesus sending the 72 disciples out.  They were told to “heal the sick in [the town] and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you'” (Luke 10:9)  The next passage is the Good Samaritan.  Jesus teaches that we need to love our neighbors – and everyone is our neighbor. Wait, so a mere thirty verses before, Jesus is sending people out to go do something to serve Him?  He wasn’t telling them they just needed to sit and listen?  Well, then, that probably isn’t what He’s telling Martha to do either. Let’s look at the exact words He says to her.  He says, “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41)  He calls her out on her anxiety and how she is troubled.  He isn’t saying “Martha, quit working and sit down.”  Martha is probably like me, trying to be hospitable but stressing out instead.  She needs to be using her gifts of hospitality out of love, not out of obligation.  She needs to understand that that’s not how her sister, Mary, serves.  She needs to love her neighbor (her sister) and accept that her sister is serving her Savior by sitting at His feet. Let’s retell this story the way I think might be a better interpretation – Jesus is coming to stay at two sisters’ house.  Both women love Him very much.  Martha, so excited that her Savior is coming to stay with her wants to make His stay perfect.  She cleans the house, plans the meal, and cooks.  Jesus arrives and Mary, so happy to see him sits at his feet, hanging on his every word.  Martha, though, in her attempt to make everything perfect, ignores the fact that Jesus has arrived (remember, she was “distracted with much serving” – Luke 10:40).  Maybe things start going wrong or something burns while being cooked or things start falling behind schedule.  We don’t know what the circumstances were, but we know that Martha gets frazzled and annoyed.  Maybe she’s like me and thinks she’ll look bad if things aren’t perfect.  The Savior is here and things aren’t going the way Martha expected!  This is not the way the Son of God should be treated when He comes over.  Martha goes over to Jesus and demands that he tells Mary to come help.  Jesus says, though, that Martha doesn’t need to worry about it.  He doesn’t care if dinner is running late.  Loving Him is all that matters.  Mary is showing her love for Him by sitting at His feet but Martha isn’t being loving in the way she’s going about getting things ready.  She doesn’t necessarily need to stop.  She needs to reevaluate why she’s doing what she’s doing and make sure she’s putting her Savior first.

This puts me in my place.  I may have the gift of hospitality but, if I’m not doing it with the right motives, my gift is useless.  Jesus wants me to put Him first.  If that means I need to readjust my attitude than that’s what I need to do.  If it means I need to stop working and sit at His feet to get my priorities straight, that’s what I need to do.  All that matters is that I’m loving my Savior.

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