When I was young, my family always went out to a restaurant for Sunday lunch with my grandparents. Every week without fail my sister and I would be asked The Inevitable Question: “What did you learn in Sunday School today?”
Being smart kids, we knew to prepare a concise, one-sentence answer that would convince the adults that we listened attentively instead of eating our animal crackers in creative ways or passing notes to the cute boys.
On one particular Sunday, my little sister had her answer at the ready. She responded to The Inevitable Question cherubically: “We learned about Mary and Martha and how Mary was better because she wanted to spend time with Jesus.”
And that started it.
My grandmother slapped her hand on the table exclaimed rather vehemently, “I hate that story! Let me tell you, sitting at the feet of Jesus is all well and good, but if it wasn’t for the Marthas of us in this world, nothing would ever get done.”
Giving a regal glance around the table and being satisfied that her point was well made, she went back to eating her lunch. We passed mystified, slightly amused looks around the table and followed suit.
Mary and Martha. Causing family disputes since the New Testament.
I imagine the story of Mary and Martha playing out in Real Housewives of Bethany style:
In her expansive kitchen, Martha is toiling over platters of appetizers laid out on granite countertops. Delectable, mouth-watering scents fill the air. Every garnish is impeccable. Flour dots her designer apron, but not a hair of her perfect coiffure is out of place. Her makeup is flawless. Her frown lines are the only thing that mar this picture of domestic diva bliss.
“Where is my sister? I can’t believe she left me to host a house full of guests on my own. The nerve of that woman.”
Lifting a lovely platter, she glides on designer heels across marble floors into the formal living room and surveys the scene in front of her. Jesus, her charismatic family friend, sits at the center. Arrayed around him, hanging on every word he says, are his entourage. And there, sitting by his dirty sandals, is Mary.
Martha’s do-nothing, flighty, irresponsible sister is sitting there without a care in the world. She never even notices Martha enter. In fact, no one does. The savory smells wafting from her tray of heavenly delights have no effect on any of the ungrateful souls in the room.
Miffed, Martha clears her throat. “Jesus, this is so unfair! These mini-quiches don’t cook themselves, you know. Mary’s just sitting here while I do all the work in the kitchen! Tell her to come help me.”
If the Bible was Real Housewives, Mary and Martha might have an all-out girl fight with name-calling and hair-pulling and shoe-throwing.
But this isn’t Real Housewives. Jesus isn’t into reality TV antics. He answers Martha gently, compassionately.
“Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it…”
Luke 10:41b-42a MSG
Can you see yourself in Martha? Have you heard yourself saying something like this:
- I’d love to spend more time with Jesus, but I have to get one more thing marked off my To Do List.
- If I want it done the right way I might as well do it myself.
- No one appreciates everything I do around here.
Now, I’m not hating on Martha. In fact, I agree with my grandmother. We need Marthas in this world. If not for the Marthas, who would make iced tea and finger sandwiches? Organize church potlucks? Pick out curtains? Make sure the nativity is just right?
Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to stop being a good hostess or neglect her responsibilities. He wasn’t belittling the things that were important to her. He was telling her keep her priorities in order.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:33 NLT
If your life has left you holding a platter of under-appreciated mini-quiches in a room full of ungrateful people, if you have gotten so caught up in making the perfect party for Jesus that you forgot who you were celebrating, then these words are for you:
Dear friend, you are getting yourself worked up over nothing. Seek God first because time resting and receiving at His feet is never wasted. He will give you everything you need.
Did you hear that? Not just some things. Not just a little bit or halfway.
Everything. Everything you need.
What do you need, Martha?
By Emily Simmons, Emily SaysLeave a Comment
This one has been a struggle for me. Thanks for putting it into real terms. Gave me a good laugh, in a good way. Loved it.
Yes, that’s me! I’m definitely a Martha! LOL! I even complained that I’m too much Martha and not enough Mary.
Janet Cafer says
I find that if I am not Mary first (every day) that my “Martha” service is not filled with love, compassion and obedience but with obligation, resentment and a judgmental attitude… When we fix our eyes on Jesus – self is not in the spot light…
Beth Williams says
beth willis miller says
Love the humor in this post 🙂 praying every day to live focused on Jesus in the light of eternity…
Poor Martha, I’ve always thought she got a bad rap. She was just concerned about caring for others and being gracious…
I have such a hard time with this. My picture might just be after the words ‘task oriented’ in the dictionary. The tasks I love to do are taking care of the people I love, but sometimes I know they would just appreciate the love instead of my running from task to task. Thank you for sharing this.
I love this! Our youth group is doing a dessert theater fundraiser in April. One of the skits we wrote is “Real Housewives: Jerusalem” (even though it’s set in Bethany). The premise is that Martha invites several “Mary’s” and the women of Luke 8 over to plan a gala to raise money for Jesus’ ministry. This made me smile.
What a daily struggle it is to look past the things to be done and see the heart that lies behind it! Thank you for the reminder that if my heart is seeking Jesus the priority will be on loving and serving Him, not on whether I did everything perfect. Such a powerful message to my inner perfectionist.
Beth Williams says
I have a hard time with being Mary. I try daily to have a quiet time to settle my thoughts and talk with Him.
When the phone rings or I hear of someone sick, in need–I usually end up like Martha–“What should we do?” “How soon to do it?” Instead of praying & asking God to help solve this problem or heal this person I immediately want to do something.
I need a combination of Martha/Mary.
Sally Ferguson says
Especially important message in the middle of preparations for the celebration of Easter. Traditions can dictate bigger and better feasts, festivities and festoons, but our focus must be on Jesus!
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