In the famous Mary/Martha story in Luke 10:38-42, differing perspectives were not recognized and conflict ensued. Have you ever been around someone who never seems to stop working and adds a new twist to it, such as, whistling “Whistle While You Work” or some other such catchy tune that makes your relaxed skin crawl while you sit on your backside and try to stay in the tranquil realm you were in. I’m sure my kids probably have felt this many times, as I have done more than whistle a hinting tune!
However, Mary wasn’t just being selfish or thoughtless here. She was absorbing the teachings of Jesus for one last time as he was traveling the road that would lead to His destination. Jesus had stopped at the home of his good friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, to indulge in a meal and restful time. Martha, probably in a floury apron with sweaty, disheveled hair to show for her time spent poking coals and fussing over the meal preparations, was frazzled, and the close relationship she and her siblings shared with Jesus precluded airs. After all, Jesus had wept with them and raised their brother from the dead not so long ago. Martha’s growing resentment at Mary was likely becoming more and more evident as she wasn’t bothering to conceal it. Mary wouldn’t even have the right to enjoy this visit had Martha not extended the invitation. And now Martha was intent on going down the checklist of duties that was necessary to pulling off this shindig, while Mary was cool, calm, collected and serenely listening to Jesus talk.
Taking her self righteous frustration to the next level, Martha publicly asked Jesus if he did not care and demanded that He insist Mary help her. There is no indication that He was defensive that she questioned His heart, or that their friendship cooled in the least. I suspect Jesus would rather have had his discussion with Martha in private; however she chose the venue. So ever so gently, He began His effort to widen her perspective with a gentle “Martha, Martha…” and proceeded to explain to her that Mary had chosen rightly. It was not that Jesus didn’t have an appetite for whatever delicious aroma Martha had wafting around the home, or that He did not appreciate the thoughtfulness of the invite, or that He wasn’t grateful to recline around the table with good friends in fellowship. However, he probably regretted Martha not joining in the conversation more than he appreciated the delicious meal. His point to Martha and to us, is that when we choose the things of an eternal nature, it produces eternal fruit and won’t be taken from us. The rest, though affording us temporal pleasure, we leave behind.
No matter our gender, we all have times of being a Martha and times of being a Mary. And, despite our stereotyping based on this instance, Martha and Mary may have had times of role reversal as well. Martha probably planned on that down time after the meal was over. She may have even been willing to leave all the dishes until the next day. But she did not and could not, in her own understanding, realize the time for sitting and listening may not come her way again. How often do we think we will get back to what is best, but somehow it passes us by while we are busy with too much busy stuff.
Jesus was on a mission that would take Him away from this earth, in his human form. Mary probably didn’t understand that either, but I wonder if, as she sat and listened, she was prompted by the Spirit with a sense of urgency to just stay and listen, despite the guilt trip Martha would have put on her. A prompting she may have only gotten because she was willing to “be still”. If Martha had stopped long enough to sense this urgency, I wonder if she would’ve just scratched the “program” and sat down. Another clue comes from John’s gospel where we are told that Lazarus was sitting at the table with His Healer, Jesus, as Martha served. Just seeing them there together should have been a reminder to stop and worship! I wonder how many times Jesus gentle admonishment, “Martha, Martha” rang in her ears after it was too late to recognize the fine line we sometimes walk between good, better and best.
Sometimes I struggle with knowing which is good, which is better and which is best from day to day. Do you? It is not always the same for each of us. I wonder what promptings we miss when we choose one of the first two rather than the last. I wonder how often we could avoid conflict if we could understand that one person’s good choice is not wrong even if it’s possibly not the best, and that it is not our job to compare or judge. I am glad that Jesus widens our perspective to understand each other better, just as he did for these sisters. It is comforting to know that He did not condemn Martha. He just changed her perspective. In response to her own struggle, He just pointed her from good to best.