I am preparing for a dinner party tonight, and my thoughts turn to Martha, not Stewart. (Its uncanny they both bear the name Martha, isn’t it?) Not because I’m harried -obviously, here I sit writing this!- but because I love preparing. To me, that is the fun of a party; the day(s) of preparations beforehand. I think Martha would agree. Martha was a preparer. She had grand plans and creative schemes. She loved serving and did her best to make each meal as enjoyable for her guests as possible. When I hear a sermon or read something about her, this is the way I envision her. An artîst, with an eye on the flair. But, her service is rarely presented as something to imitate. Instead, she gets slammed for serving and Mary is commended for sitting around. Isn’t that backwards and unfair? What was really going on?
At the Home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What was Martha’s problem?
Martha was anxious and stressed out! She thought she had to do everything, and do it perfectly. She had impossible expectations. Maybe she wanted to impress Jesus with her hospitality skills and got in over her head with extravagant dinner plans. This created a situation of chaos, and she lashed out at her sister in her panic. She allowed her desire to serve become a burden to the very people she wanted to please! I can envision her running around, wiping the sweat with the back of her hand and getting flour on her brow as the pot overboils filling the house with steam. She looks around, eyes wild, when she spies Mary relaxing with a drink, on a cushion, feet propped up. Martha wishes she could take it easy, but someone has to do the work or they’d all starve! Poor Martha. The servant martyr feels sorry for herself. Her brooding turns to exasperation as Lazarus asks for more olives, and she acuses the man who loves her more than life (Jesus) of not caring.
Oh, man! How often have I done that? I have put together parties in the past where I allowed myself to get so overwhelmed with the little details, that I was rude and abrupt with my guests and never relaxed to enjoy the evening or be an enjoyable blessing myself. If Jesus or my sister had been around, I probably would have yelled at them too. Instead, my husband got the brunt of my self-pity and shrewry.
What did Jesus advise her to do?
Did he instruct her to sit down and take it easy? Did he tell her to stop making dinner; to stop serving him? No! Serving is a good thing! He says, “Only one thing is needed.” The connotation of these words in the original language could be “few things.” In other words, “Only a few things are needed. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.” He was saying that Martha needed to refocus on what was the most important priority for that moment. She had confused the point of her service and needed to simplify so she would not be tempted to lose her cool. She had chosen to squander a precious moment of joyful service to the king on self-pity and meaness. And it was sweet of Jesus to protect Mary from Martha’s Kitchen. He knew Martha could handle it, once she put the evening in the proper perspective.
When details replace people in priority, you’ve become a Martha. And now, I’ve got to go stuff the cannolis and sculpt a few carrot roses.