Monday, June 10, 2013

A New Twist on an Old Story

posted by Michael

The writers who recounted the stories of Jesus’ life shortly after He had gone back to heaven included a few stories that involved a trio of siblings named Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. One of the more popular stories takes place in the sibling’s home. Martha is frantically putting together a meal for Jesus and those travelling with him. Martha had been the one to welcome Jesus to her home, and she wanted to provide the best hospitality to him that she could. Jesus traveled constantly during his years of ministry which meant that a comfortable place to sit and a home cooked meal were rarities. Martha had compassion for the teacher she so admired, and planned to clean his feet, fill his belly, and give him a much needed rest on his journey.

Her plan began to break down when she looked around and noticed that she was alone in the kitchen. Where was her sister Mary? Jesus and her other guests were hungry. This food needed to be prepared NOW. How could Mary be so thoughtless and selfish?! Why am I doing all the work? Why do I have to carry the stress of this all alone? Exasperated, she went to Jesus and asked for His help. “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m in there slaving over the food all alone, while Mary is just sitting here like a lump? Most of the times when this story is told, we jump to the part where Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen wisely, and that he won’t take her away from listening to his teachings. The moral we are told is that sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him is more important that anything you could ever do, and there is a ton of truth in that. It’s a message that many of us “doers” need to hear often. There is a time to sit and simply be with Jesus. But there is more going on in this story than just this important moral.

The first thing Jesus tells Martha are words filled with compassion and patience. The ESV translates Jesus’ words to say, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:41-42a) Martha used her home well. She had a gift for hospitality and compassion for people who were worn out and depleted. Her plan was to offer a warm place to sit and warm food to eat as her way to care for Jesus. So far, so good. Things broke down when Martha assumed that the way she was going to care for Jesus was the same way that Mary would care for Jesus. Martha left her “one thing” and was now focused on Mary’s actions. That was the beginning of her, and many times our, anxieties.

Jesus returned later to Martha’s house, just a week or so before his death. The story begins in much the same way. Martha is busy in the kitchen and Mary is being… well, Mary. She takes a bottle of expensive perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and washes his feet with her hair. The beautiful part of the story happens next when Martha says….nothing. Martha is focused on loving Jesus the best way she can, by cooking him a meal and giving him a place to rest. She is also now content to allow Mary to love Jesus in the best way that she could. To say that the point of the story is that Martha needed to be like Mary isn’t completely true. Martha needed to be the best Martha she could be, and not be discouraged or angered by people who were not wired like she was.  Martha had found her one thing, and also had found peace from her anxieties.