When I read the story of Mary and Martha, I always thought I was Mary, sitting adoringly at the feet of Jesus.
Now I’m sure that I’m definitely Martha.
I don’t want to be, but I am.
There are two interesting passages about Mary and Martha in Scripture: the one where the sisters are hosting a dinner party for God’s only Son (imagine the stress that event would inspire in the heart of any woman if you will) and the second when their brother Lazarus died, and Jesus showed up for the wake.
When Jesus comes to dinner, Martha is a nervous wreck. I know just how she feels. When I am having guests at our house, my cleaning genetic kicks in. I dust – sometimes even lifting objects up to dust underneath them. I dust off my recipe books and cook something better than Hamburger Helper. Sometimes – because I am so stressed about everything, I barely focus on my guests. I forget to have fun.
Martha was like that. In this passage, Jesus is over to dinner and she is running around like she’s nuts, trying to get everything done. Meanwhile, what is Mary doing? Nothing.
She is sitting, relaxed as can be, at Jesus feet, while the meal was burning on the stove and the table was not even set. Martha, seeing her sister’s indifference to the tasks that needed to be done, was upset. I would be too! Why wasn’t Mary doing her part?
If I was Martha I would have resented the fact that Mary could relax while I did all the work. Why couldn’t I sit at the feet of Jesus? Why couldn’t someone else shoulder some of my burden?
In the second gathering, Mary and Martha’s brother had just died. Again, the two sisters have quite different responses to Jesus’ arrival. Martha goes out to meet Jesus – Mary sits in the house. Now we don’t know why. Maybe Martha wanted to take charge or do the right thing. After all, if God showed up at your house, wouldn’t you go out to meet him? Even if you were really upset?
This is the Miss Manners thing to do. Stand when a guest enters, sit when you’re told, cross your legs, curtsy. Act appropriately. Martha though surprises us a bit. She challenges Jesus: “If you had been here, “she says, “my brother wouldn’t be dead.”
She always does the right thing – why not Jesus?
In this passage – Martha is again the doer. She takes charge. She makes things happen. She does what is expected of her by everyone else.
Not Mary. This was the same woman who dumped expensive valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet. She is extravagant, unfocused, unexpected, and unconventional.
Yet, here’s the kicker. Jesus loved them both. The Bible says, Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. He doesn’t put them in descending order. He knows Martha’s quirks. He knows that she sometimes gets her priorities skewed – that cleaning takes precedence over company, that ambition takes over compassion, that common sense prevails over faith.
That’s me. That’s Martha.
I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up some day and be a Mary.
Yet, I do know that the moments when I feel most fully alive, most fulfilled, are not when I am scurrying around, stressed out, trying to get to the post office or scrub my kitchen floor. They are in those other moments – those wonderful unscheduled times when I am hugging my sleepy teenager or taking a walk with my dog (who desperately needs a bath). I need more Mary moments. Times when I slow down, shift my focus, remember what is truly important.
Because – if our fulfillment is in how clean our homes are – I am ultimately doomed. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many times I clean out the storage room or empty the laundry basket, the housework will never end. There is always more to do.
I do know God loves me anyway.