So here we are again with Martha and Mary. Jesus has stopped by to visit. Now remember, by this time he is traveling with a good sized group of people, but even if it is just the twelve, think of getting food ready for that many people. Martha is slaving away in the kitchen. She has probably had to kill and butcher an animal then get it cooking. Haven’t we all been there? Well, no, we haven’t. We have freezers, microwaves, even KFC in a pinch. Martha had none of these. So she is distracted and irritable.
Adding to her annoyance is the fact that her sister, Mary seems oblivious to the fact that all this work needs to be done. Oh no. She is just sitting at the feet of Jesus, in the room with all the men, listening and thrilled to be in the presence of her Lord. She is hanging onto his every word.
Martha asks Jesus to make her sister get up and help her. “Master”, she complains, “don't you care that my sister has abandoned me in the kitchen? Tell her to lend me a hand."
Now, think about what she has done. She could have gone up to her sister and whispered in her ear, “Mary, I REALLY need help here. Please, please come into the kitchen with me right now!” Instead she went to the guest of honor, like a child telling on her sister. She demanded that Jesus take action and make Mary help her.
But Jesus doesn’t go along with her demand at all; “Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Sorry, but at this point in the story I want to ask Jesus exactly how does he expect to get fed? I relate and I believe that many women relate to fuming Martha in this story. I bet today, many people are hearing this story in church and thinking, “Yep, that is just how it is at my church: I make the coffee, put out the treats and clean the kitchen all the time and who is helping me?”
I’ve certainly had similar thoughts at home in the kitchen, even though I get tons of help from Kevin and Jeff and any guests I have, I can still get pouty over being in the kitchen when I’d rather be sitting in the living room.
Aha, here is a difference though; since I’ve had all these problems with my feet, I’ve had to get a lot better at asking for help, all day, every day. I admit, right off the bat, that I can’t do it all myself. This realization has been an unexpected gift from my poor, useless feet! I wonder if Martha should learn to ask for help instead of fuming by herself in the kitchen?
Back to Mary and Jesus. Further annoying Martha is the fact that her sister is flouting all social convention of the time by sitting and listening to Jesus in a room full of men. This is unheard of behavior for a first century woman! Women were not allowed to study the Torah at all. They fulfilled their religious roles by following hundreds of rigid rules, properly preparing and serving food, keeping a kosher home, and many other laws. This reading says that Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. This is how men, studying together would act. Mary is ruining her reputation by her actions today. Surely this is getting on Martha’s nerves as well.
What does Jesus do? He stands up for Mary. He praises Mary for knowing what is truly important in this world, for choosing to focus on God’s word rather than women’s work. Jesus praising a woman for this radical choice is incredible. He is also pointing out that Martha is so distracted and cranky about cooking that she has forgotten to lose herself in the NOW of His presence.
We are living in a distracting time (excuse me a sec while I check my email, messages, Facebook). It is harder and harder to genuinely focus on what is at hand. I find that church is one guaranteed time each week that I am 1) free from computers and phones, 2) able to rise above daily concerns and focus on bigger things and 3) happy to sing loudly in my terrible voice, with complete unselfconsciousness, utterly losing myself in the NOW of the Holy Spirit!
Christ wants Martha to do the work that needs to be done but do so mindfully, putting aside her anxiety and distracted air. He is chiding her to Be Here Now. Mary is focused on the one thing while Martha is seething with resentment. Some say that holding onto resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Doesn’t do much good, does it?
So let’s try to join Mary, working to be less distracted and focusing on ‘the one thing’ more often! Let’s sit quietly and allow the still, small voice of God a chance to be heard without having to shout through all of our distractions. And if we find ourselves alone in the kitchen doing all the work ... let’s be fully present and focus on that with joy!