The biblical story of Mary and Martha is one I can personally relate to. For those not familiar with the story in Luke 10:38, I will briefly fill you in. The sisters Mary and Martha, are the same whose brother Lazarus was called out of the tomb by Jesus after he had been dead for four days. John 11:1-44.
“Remove the stone covering the tomb.” Jesus ordered. I can just hear the monumental intake of breath as the many mourners gasped at the thought of the dead man in the tomb, in the heat of the Israeli climate. “ He’s been there four days, there will be a stench,” Martha told Jesus.
Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus were all very close. Like family. Jesus wept when He saw the anguish of Lazarus’ sisters over their brother’s death, though it seems He deliberately took several days to arrive after He received their message for help for their sick brother. He already knew He would be raising him from the dead. Of course, sending the sisters such a message would have been inappropriate. “Oh ladies, don’t worry about it. I am waiting for Lazarus to die, then I will bring him back from the dead.” No, that wouldn’t have been cool at all. I have digressed, but I couldn’t resist throwing in a nutshell version of the Jesus-raises-Lazarus account.
Back to the sisters. As the story goes, Martha was a busy hostess for her very special guest, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and rushed about making sure everything was just so. She fretted over the preparations, then noticed her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus, enjoying His company. This greatly disturbed her. Knowing Jesus was a just man, she asked Him to do something about it. She assumed He would rebuke Mary’s laziness and insensitivity, then she’d get the help she needed.
But the answer He gave Martha was nowhere near what she expected. Instead of a verbal slap directed at Mary, Jesus rebuked Martha for being so distracted and for not being more like Mary. Huh?
This part of the story leaves most of us feeling like—wait—if Mary and Martha both sat at Jesus’ feet, no one would get dinner. That was my first thought when I read that. I visualized Mary sitting there with that tiny smile of satisfaction sisters give each other that says, “I win.” I also pictured Martha bright red in shame of being rebuked by The Master, in front of her sister no less; carrying a grudge for the rest of the evening.
The more I thought of it, I realized that was probably more in line with what any one of us may have felt. But Mary most likely did not smile in satisfaction. That would have been out of character. She was sitting at the feet of Jesus, enjoying His teaching. Jesus obviously knew her heart. Had she had a different attitude, we would have heard about it.
What about poor Martha? We don’t know what her reaction was. Most likely she did feel ashamed. I cannot help but think there had to have been just a tiny sliver of resentment over her chastisement, but I don’t think it would have lasted long. After all, she was serving Jesus.
So what did Martha do? I don’t believe she plopped down next to her sister and said to herself. “Whatever! I will just sit here and let dinner make itself, then we’ll see what they all think.” Indeed there were things she was responsible for that needed to be done. But I do believe she may have in the burn of her rebuke, slowed down a bit, and pondered what Jesus was getting at.
I tend to be a Martha. The times I have been a Mary, I have gotten some type of rebuke. Besides, I am naturally a doer. But as a Martha personality, I have sometimes felt a bit resentful over having the burden of entire meals. During many holidays, I hustled in a hot kitchen, manned the pots on all four burners, and watched the oven while getting the table setting ready. I wanted the holiday meals to be perfect. My husband and adult children, the ones I was hustling for, usually sat in the living room visiting and sharing great stories.
My son Jonathan, an especially engaging story teller, often had them in hysterics. He enjoyed entertaining with impersonations and was quite good at them. I’d catch a word of one of those stories here and there then hear the roar of laugher. I couldn’t wait to hear the stories recounted. I longed for an extra-large country kitchen where the family could sit around and chat so I could be part of it also.
As things often went, by the time the meal was ready, the table was set and we sat down to eat, all the good stories had been told. Everybody was talked out. They chitchatted through the meal, but all the good talk happened in the living room. The charm of that conversation was long gone.
I understand Martha’s pressures. As a hostess you do all you can to make and excellent meal, especially for a guest like Jesus. You always strive for a great meal though, even if it is just for the family. Martha didn’t know Jesus was going to be on earth for only a short time. I didn’t know my son would live for just a few more years.
My son lives in Heaven now. I wish I would have slowed down and listened more when the stories were being shared. So what if dinner had been a little later or the table not perfectly set. I would have had the wonderful memories of those times and stories living in my heart today.
What is the motto of this story? Hire a cook. Just kidding. It is, seek balance in all you do. People are more precious than things. So, which are you? Are you a Martha or a Mary?
By ~ Elizabeth Yalian ©2013