People Pt. 2: Mary and Martha
Two words uttered by Jesus which I believe were laced with grace and carried compassion just as much as they did a gentle rebuke. I always hope that Martha took this rebuke to heart and that it changed the direction of her life forever. That sounds dramatic but this story feels like that kind of moment.
Mary and Martha. Two sisters. Two very different responses to the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus, in their home.
We start our story with Jesus entering a village and swiftly being welcomed into Martha’s home — a beautiful and hospitable move from her. The next character we see enter the story is Mary, who sits at the Lord’s feet and listens intently to His teaching. But where is dear Martha now? After welcoming the King of Kings into her home, she seems to be found nowhere near Him. She is distracted. Distracted with serving. What a strange thing to read — surely she is doing the right thing? The next thing we see is Martha finally approaching the Lord. Will she too sit at His feet to listen, taking it all in? But no, Martha has something else on her mind. Martha has come to lodge a complaint — and rightfully so, some of us might think. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha was upset that Mary had not lifted a finger to help serve their esteemed guest. And Martha seems to assume in her complaint that Jesus would be just the one to be on her side. He was one for service, surely He would put Mary back in her place? But that’s just not what we see. Classic Kingdom. Jesus, as he always does, turns the striving-way on its head and paints again a picture of generous Grace. What He says always makes me do a double take:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
How counter-us is this response? Martha, who we’re ready to give the Best Host award to, is actually shown to have chosen the lesser thing. And I really don’t think that Jesus is rapping Martha on the knuckles here. I think that He, in all His goodness, is opening her eyes to a new and better way of living. Martha’s preoccupation with serving has her distracted, anxious and troubled. She has forgotten the best and most necessary thing — Jesus. And Jesus is way too good to leave her there, so he calls her out — Martha, Martha! Look where serving has gotten you, look where your mind and heart are — anxious and troubled! Despite what you think, Martha, despite what culture tells us is the better way (doing vs being), I show you a different way. Be with me, over doing things for me. That’s how relationship is formed, that’s how you receive the good portion.
I love this story. Not necessarily because I’m a huge doer in the classic sense of the word but I definitely find it easier to serve than to actually spend time at the feet of Jesus, letting Him teach me and opening my mind and heart to be challenged and changed. Sometimes enjoying Jesus isn’t my go-to, it’s not the first response of my heart. There’s something in me that whispers that I must do something to impress and welcome Him, that my acceptance and affirmation will not be found in rest and enjoyment. But the Kingdom is just so different from what I am often pulled towards, God is always challenging the fallenness of our humanness (for our benefit).
I can’t help but feel bummed for the ‘Martha’ in me because I perceive my service to always be so valuable, to have some irreplaceable role in making the world go round. It makes me feel important and it makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, Jesus is proud of me and values my spot in the Kingdom. But that kind of thinking is exactly the thing that Jesus is trying to free Martha from here. Martha thinks that Jesus wants to be served, but I’m pretty sure he first wants to be known and loved. Martha thinks that service will lead to acceptance and value, but Jesus already called her accepted and valued her before she lifted a finger. The Father’s pride in us is not conditional, our status as HIS is never uncertain, our place at his table is not given or taken away depending on our behaviour. There’s something about the security of being able to sit at the feet of Jesus, to give up performance and striving so that we may look upon him with unveiled face.
Mary chose the one necessary thing, all else was peripheral.
Let that be true of us too. And if it isn’t, how gracious is our Jesus to call us out by name “Martha, Martha”, and teach us how to rest in him.