As the continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." - Luke 10: 38-42
Poor Martha. Someone needs to set the table, don't they? Someone needs to fix the food and wash the dishes and make up the beds.
I get tired of the bad rap Martha gets. How many times have I heard faithful Christian sisters say, in dismay or despair, "I'm such a Martha. I need to be more of a Mary."
I imagine Martha as a woman like me, always wanting to help, always trying so hard. Maybe too hard. I hear in her resentment my own resentment. "Why am I the only one who cares about..." A tidy house? Getting dinner on the table? Taking care of things and people? Why is it always me? Surely I've cried out with Martha, "Lord, do you not care that my sister/husband/children/friends have left me by myself to do the serving? Tell them to help me!"
I see so much selfishness around me. ("That Mary, just sitting there! How selfish!") I can't bear it. I am not going to be the selfish one, that's for sure.
And yet, Luke says that Martha is "burdened." And Jesus says, elsewhere (Matthew 11:30), "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
"There is need of only one thing," says Jesus. I don't really understand what that "one thing" is. I know, I know, sitting at the feet of Jesus. But that doesn't seem quite right. We know we really can't all sit at the feet of Jesus all the time, in the way that Mary does. Dinner does need to get to the table. What can this "one thing" be?
And while we're pondering, take a look at that next line, the one that used to make me really mad: "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." Ouch! For years and years, those words sounded to me like a sharp slap in Martha's face. And mine. And all of those self-identified "Marthas" out there.
Then, about a year ago, after reading this text a thousand times, I heard Jesus say something I had never heard before. Maybe he meant this: "Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her. Martha, you could choose it too, and it will not be taken from you."
Could that possibly be true? I can sit at the feet of Jesus? But who will set the table? Who will cook the meal and wipe the dishes and sweep the floors? If I don't, won't that make me selfish?
And Jesus says to me, "You don't have to be anxious and worried about that."
Really? The better part can be mine too? I can give up the anxious worry and have that sort of freedom? But what will happen? Who will set the table?
I guess I'll have to sit at Jesus' feet if I want to find out.