Okay, I don’t know about you but every time I hear the story of Mary and Martha I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Martha. Now I know that isn’t the “proper” response, certainly we see from Scripture that Mary “chose the better thing.” I am just saying that if Martha hadn’t been there then there would have been a houseful of hungry men. Seriously, think about it. Martha was busy preparing a meal and doing “all the work to be done.” It’s not like she was doing unnecessary things for Pete sake. I mean somebody had to do the work that needed to be done while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.
So am I the only one who has thought of this? Is there anyone else out there who can relate way more to Martha than to Mary? (I hope so!) It seems it is the same way in my own house, I suppose I could be seen as a “fun vacuum” if you ask my kids or husband, Jerry. However, if everyone is having fun then who is going to fold the socks? And I like flash light tag as much as the next gal but if no one cleans a path through the house then someone is going to wind up wounded when the lights are out. So is there a way to balance a Martha heart with a Merry household? Well, maybe…
First let’s look at what Mary was doing. The Scripture says she was “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” Now this simply means that she was receiving instruction from him, she was learning from His teaching. I will, sheepishly, admit that when I am preparing supper and Jerry is sitting on the couch I am quite easily angered, even if he is reading his Bible. Sure, He is doing the better thing but won’t our children starve if one of us doesn’t cook for them. Okay, back to Mary, it is safe to assume she was not playing a game of Chutes and Ladders or watching the newest video. She was soaking up wisdom from the King of Kings, her Savior.
Maybe that is the key, what the person is doing, so is it okay to ask your kids to do a chore (or two or three) when they would rather be playing? I think even Jesus would agree that it is okay. Playing and sitting at Jesus’ feet are two different things! The trick is to find a balance. The Scripture is filled with verses that talk about the value of hard work and not being lazy. In fact Proverbs 19:15 states, “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.” My dad always said it like this, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Verse 26 in chapter 10 of Proverbs says, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.
I think it is safe to say then that Mary was not being lazy when she chose to sit at Jesus feet, but Martha was not being lazy either so why does she get a rebuke from the Lord? Well, let’s take a look at what she was doing. She was busy doing the housework, type A personality for sure, but I can just imagine how things were playing out for her. After all I have found myself, once or twice, in her shoes.
She wakes up knowing that there is a lot to accomplish this day before her guests arrive. My guess is that she rushed through breakfast, handing out orders and shared her expectations all the way through. Or maybe she didn’t even communicate those expectations; after all, Mary should know what needs to be done without being told. Next, Martha whipped out her “to do list” and began checking things off. “Build a fire in the stove, check, put on water, check, chop vegetables for a salad, check, knead the bread dough, check…. All the while Mary is nowhere to be seen and Martha slowly begins to boil inwardly. With each passing task Martha gets a little madder until she finally “blows.” She looks in and here is Jesus and the disciples with…what…what is she doing in there…. So Martha marches in and declares, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.” Now Martha is expecting the Lord to side with her; she is hoping He will chastise Mary and set things right. Imagine her surprise and hurt when He answers instead, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.” I don’t suppose that made Martha feel an ounce better, and I have to admit it leaves me a bit puzzled also. Here is Martha working her tail off trying to get things ready for Jesus and His disciples and Jesus tells her, “Mary has chosen the better thing.” I imagine that Martha was expecting more along the lines of a word of thanks not a rebuke from the Lord.
So why did Jesus respond to her this way? Well 2 Samuel tells us that, “Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart” and I imagine that is where the answer lies. Jesus knew Martha’s heart. Proverbs tells us, “Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Martha’s morning work had more to do with her than with being a servant. I know this because as I have already confessed, I am a Martha. I clean the house and run around like a mad woman when we are having people over because I want them to think well of me. I am not doing it as a service to them or to my family. Does that make sense? It really is more about me than about serving company. In trying to explain the frenzy that sets in upon the mere mention of company I have often said, “No one is going to leave this house and say, ‘That Jerry Graham is a terrible housekeeper.’ If we were honest most of us would probably admit that we think a messy house is a reflection on the lady of the house, right? Martha, being the oldest sister was seen as the one in charge and so this may explain why she was worried about all the house work. Oh, but there is a difference between being hospitable and being welcoming.
Or maybe it was something else. Maybe she wanted to be recognized for all her hard work. Look at me, look what I am doing for you, Jesus. Have any of us ever felt that way? Modern psychology would call it the “martyr syndrome.” Again I admit, I have often worked long into the night feeling sorry for myself and thinking about how lucky my family is to have me. Pretty arrogant, huh? Or I have worked long and hard on something, more for the praise than because I wanted to serve whoever it was for. Paul reminds us though, in Ephesians (2:8-9) that we are saved by grace and not by the work we do so that we will not get caught up in boasting. Well I haven’t got all the answers, that is for sure but I am pretty sure it is okay to have a little bit of Martha in you…just be sure to balance that with a Mary (merry) heart. “A heart at peace gives life to the body…” Proverbs 14:30
Would love to hear your thoughts!