28th January 2011

Martha, Martha

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

Ohhh, yippee. Unlimited skiving rights for anyone who wants to sit around being religious while others take the strain of everyday life. The trouble is, the Bible just doesn’t tell us whether Mary usually did at least her share of the work but had hoped she wouldn’t be missed for a few minutes—or whether her greatest talent in life had always been the ability not to notice things that needed to be done around her. Most likely something in between.

Whichever it was, Jesus validated her and corrected Martha, and if you’ve ever felt overstressed and taken for granted you’ll have wondered what exactly Martha was doing wrong. Perhaps you’ve heard this one a long time ago, and it was all perfectly simple: She had her priorities wrong. All she needed to do was mentally to list her priorities in descending order, and then her schedule would be all sorted, and Jesus would approve of her.

No, wait a minute—Jesus didn’t talk about a list. He said “only one thing” was necessary… suggesting she actually had, in some sense, to let go of all the other things.

When Jesus spoke of ‘many things’ burdening Martha, he wasn’t necessarily referring to the household logistics. What motives did Martha need to relinquish? The ethics of obligation? Her reputation as a housekeeper? Perfectionism? Feelings of control? A sense of human fairness? All of those had to go out of currency in her heart. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Maybe, even while it would affect her physically, on the Christian level it was none of Martha’s business whether Mary pulled her weight or not.

I half wish the Bible account would tell whether Martha went away confused and just returned to her many concerns; whether she felt humiliated, threw in the towel and let the dinner burn; or whether from then on she humbly did what was needed, while accepting and accommodating Mary’s choices. It doesn’t say.

Father in heaven, thank you for giving us, freely, something better than all the things we tend to worry about: Jesus, our salvation. Help us to let go of the motives that can sometimes make service to others burdensome.

Study by Fiona Jones 

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