I imagine she was excited. Hosting people was something she was quite good at, in fact took pride in. Friends and family often remarked at her skill in cooking and making guests feel welcome. Sure, it was a lot of work and took plenty of time preparing, cleaning, toiling away but it was worth it and besides, she’d usually assign her sister to some of the work.
Mary didn’t seem to share Martha’s “passion” for keeping a clean house and preparing delicious meals. More than once Martha had to snap her fingers to wake Mary from a daydream so she’d get back to her tasks. There were times she needed help and had to even leave the house to seek Mary out, finding her outside in the garden or sitting beneath a tree looking up at the blue sky. It wasn’t that Mary was unwilling to help. It’s just that Martha seemed to have more a little more drive. She was a go-getter, a “doer.”
Life had taken an unusually happy turn when they met Jesus from Nazareth. He and his friends joined them around their table more than once to enjoy Mary and Martha’s hospitality and to talk with their brother, Lazarus. They became good friends. Jesus seemed to enjoy having a home where he could stop in at times, a safe haven of fellowship and respite from scrutiny and questions with hidden agendas.
Martha smiled as she thought of this, proud to know Jesus, pleased to serve Him and hoping to impress him. He and his disciples had arrived not long ago and she was full steam ahead in the kitchen. She could hear their voices in the other room, sometimes breaking out in hearty laughter. Beads of sweat formed on her face and neck as she checked on baking bread and meat cooking on the fire. She suddenly looked up noticing she was alone. She glanced around and realized her sister was nowhere to be found. Frustration and irritation bubbled up inside of her as she stood to go find that dreamer of a sister and get her to come help. There was still a lot to do before the meal was ready to be served and Jesus was waiting! Martha wanted everything to be perfect.
She looked out back and didn’t see her, walked around to the front of the house and street. Still no sign of Mary. As she walked briskly back into the house she glanced toward the room where the men sat and there she was: the girl who was supposed to be working lounging right next to Jesus, looking up at him, lost in every word He said.
Martha marched in and wagged her finger as all eyes turned toward her, “Jesus, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m trying to finish preparing the meal and Mary is supposed to be helping me. Surely you don’t think it’s right for her to leave me with all the work do you? Tell her to come help me.” While she wiped her hands on her apron, Jesus got up and walked over to her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Martha,” he said while looking her straight in the eyes, “You’re working so hard and fretting over much, when really in the grand scheme of things there is only one thing you need. Mary’s chosen that and I wouldn’t take that away from her.” He smiled warmly at her, then walked back to his place to sit down while she stood there trying not to show the hurt she felt.
She turned to walk back to the kitchen, mulling it over. What did he mean? Wasn’t it important that they eat? And he didn’t want to eat uncooked, ill-prepared food did he? Isn’t it nice to offer guests special treatment, to put forth the best effort to serve them well and please them?
Suddenly she felt as if she was missing out. It seemed absurd to abandon the meal and go in and sit down with Jesus, just like her sister, but for some crazy reason she felt Jesus would think that was the right choice. Still, it was hard for her to accept that what she worked so hard at and spent so much time doing wasn’t the thing that pleased Him the most. He just wanted all of them to be with him, to listen, to draw near. Even the women, even Mary…and herself.
Martha wasn’t sure she could make that choice. She thought surely she would feel guilty the whole time, knowing there were chores to be done and food to be prepared.
I wonder what she did. When Luke tells us about this interchange between Jesus and Martha, he doesn’t finish the story. Did Martha go back to her work in the kitchen? Did she instead come sit with Mary, Lazarus, the disciples and Jesus to hear what they were talking about? What do you think?
I think so many of us have Mary hearts, but live as Marthas. We long for that closeness with Jesus, to just be with him, but our nature and habit of doing gets in the way. I find myself feeling as though I’m living, but not thriving in Him. I’m busily bustling through my day on 15% oxygen with shallow breaths, when I ache to be saturated with His life-giving presence. Most of the time it’s because I’m doing and working and trying to please Him by that doing and working, instead of just being with Him. I don’t take the time to sit still and listen.
“Mimi, Mimi,” I can hear Him say, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Choose what is better, and it will not be taken away from you.”