I got to thinking one evening while doing dishes after dinner… am I a Mary or a Martha? Or perhaps a little of both? I’ve always been intrigued by the biblical story of Mary and Martha, two sisters, friends of Jesus along with their brother, Lazarus. Luke 10:38-42 describes Jesus’ visit to their home where Mary joined others and sat at His feet, listening to His teaching. But Martha remained in the other room preparing a meal for their guests. While busying herself with all that went into food preparation, her frustration simmered to a boiling point.
Life gets so busy and hectic sometimes, doesn’t it? Ever feel like you’re trapped in the kitchen while everyone else is having a great time visiting, talking and laughing? I’ll admit I have! Cooking is not my forte`. I’d much rather be visiting with my guests than in the kitchen. So, I empathize with Martha. There’s so much to do for your guests, and you fret and worry as time presses in. You want everything to be right for them to feel special, loved and appreciated… to give attention to the fine details as you prepare to serve them a delicious meal.
Being the oldest of six, having helped care for four younger brothers during my teen years, taking the family laundry in a wagon to the laundromat every week for some time at age 11-12 with my sister in Clifton when our Mom was laid up, plus an every-other-day babysitting job of four children all through high school from 4 p.m. through 1:20 a.m., (alternating evenings with my sister), plus other weekend babysitting jobs, plus caring for my horse and flock of several dozen chickens and ducks, plus working for a lawyer in the afternoons during my senior year of high school and full-time after graduation, contributing a portion of my income to my parents for room and board while also buying my own clothes, fabric to make clothes, paying for my own school supplies and for a car with its upkeep, I’ve always felt responsible for myself, and everyone and everything else. Even my husband and kids will tell you that! To be honest, with Martha being the oldest sibling, perhaps she also carried the weight of responsibility and obligation that Mary may not have felt as strongly.
So, as Martha prepared the meal, in frustration and perhaps with a quick temper, she petulantly asked Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” and then even demanded, “Tell her to help me!” On one hand, you’d think that was a valid request – after all, they needed to eat, and Martha did need help. But, on the other hand, I’ve also been appalled at Martha’s nerve for speaking in such a demanding tone to their beloved teacher. And isn’t that how I sometimes think when I’m overwhelmed by life’s demands? Yet, instead of answering sharply, Jesus gently rebuked her for being concerned with these lesser matters, saying, “Martha, Martha. 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.”
His response to Martha can seem a bit confusing. As I contemplate His words though, I believe Jesus intended that the meal could wait. They didn’t need anything fancy – no abundant buffet or big fuss was necessary. Martha only needed to serve something simple, quick and easy. I believe He wanted Martha to understand the value of the personal time and teaching He was giving to the guests, and to the sisters in their home. In essence, He was reminding them of something He’d taught the crowds in His Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow… (Matthew 6:25, 33, 34a NIV)
Priorities mattered then just as much as they do now… in my life… in all our lives. I need to set aside quiet time to think and reflect, to meditate, to pray and listen to what God is trying to say within my heart… and to give Him the weight of responsibility I feel for everything. I need not fret and worry. The Apostle Peter understood how we feel and said it well, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7 NIV) When I do, it sure seems to help me handle whatever comes my way. It also seems to put life into a clearer perspective so that I can better serve others with a heart of joy instead of stress in the little nuisances of life.
Mary or Martha
Linda A. Roorda
If I were Mary, Or were I but Martha,
What would I choose Should a friend come to call?
Would I be too busy To welcome my guest,
Or would I gaze attentive And at His side be still.
But a meal must be served! The depth of discussion
I’m too busy to hear There’s so much to be done!
Lord, can’t you tell Mary I need her help now!
The preparations are great A burden for me alone.
Martha, my dear child, Can you not understand?
Mary’s gentle spirit Seeks my Word for her soul.
There’s a time and a place For the busyness of life
With much to be done For those in need of care.
And yet there’s a time To come away from it all
As you quietly listen And ponder My Word.
A word of wisdom I seek, To restore my soul.
Lord, show me the path, My steps to trace Yours.
Attentive and still To quiet the chaos
In the depths of my soul I need You, dear Lord.
Your soft voice I hear As I sit at your feet
Resting in Your Word The Way for my life.