How did I get into this mess?
I’m sure this questions has wandered through your mind on more than one occasion, depending on your situation what preceded it could have been anything—after all one of our specialties as humans is getting in over our heads and trying to back out only to find ourselves sinking faster and farther.
For me, these are the words I utter when all the things I have said yes to come raining down on my head all at once and threaten to drown me in a sea of responsibilities. Because once I commit to something…I commit to it. Sometimes too much. The curse of perfectionism (yeah, I know it’s not healthy and somewhat sinful…that’s why I called it a curse) is the constant struggle of trying to do everything and trying to do everything right.
I like to be busy, but the downside to that is sometimes I get too busy and forget the things that really should matter.
Can you relate? Even if you don’t overextend yourself as much as I do, I feel as though we can all allow our busy-ness to get in the way of our healthy-ness.
Martha sure can.
She was the epitome of allowing all that she was doing get in the way of her being. Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I Am not I Do.
We are first introduced to Martha in Luke 10. She lives in a little town of Bethany (about 2 miles from Jerusalem) with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus. This trio is, if not inseparable, at least incredibly close. Never is any mention of any other family made, so I can’t help but wonder, did Martha have a husband? If not, why? The text, Luke 10:38 tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. Does this house belong only to her, or is simply a reference to her hospitality? I don’t know. I like to think that she was a strong, single woman, but I know how unlikely that would be given the cultural context, but what I do know is that husband her not, she is recognized as an important part of Jesus’ story.
The whole account is recorded in Luke 10:38-42, and aside from the family relationships, we are told two things 1) Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and 2) she was distracted with much serving.
I don’t know about you, but if Jesus came to my house in the flesh, I’d be a little distracted too! Not only would I worry about the smells and cleanliness, but I’d be super busy trying to keep him—and his entourage—fed and happy! Because let’s face it, Jesus didn’t travel alone and any time he went anywhere a crowd was sure to follow. Not only was she responsible for the comfort of 13 men (Jesus +disciples) I am certain others kept showing up. It is her home! As a southern woman, I can relate to the pressure she must have felt to make sure everyone was feeling comfortable and served.
But then, there is Mary.
Martha is working herself to a frenzy…and where is her sister? Sitting! Sitting and listening!
In Martha’s mind, she sees her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus and is burned up with anger. How dare her sister come into her home and act so selfishly?
Boy can I relate to that—Most of the time I love the busy life. I love serving. I love making sure that jobs get done that other people find unpleasant.
But every once in a while, I see someone else sitting…and typically it’s someone who hasn’t seemed to do anything at all to be helpful with whatever it is I am working on.
And there they are, sitting and chatting while I am running around doing, doing, doing.
I can imagine what was going through Martha’s mind—no servant’s heart, but anger and jealousy as she watches her sister do nothing. I know, because I have experienced the same—what started out as a selfless act turned into a need for recognition.
Becoming so distracted with serving that you literally forget why and who you are serving in the first place.
Well finally Martha has had enough and she orders Jesus to send her sister in to help. Yep, you heard that right, she gives Jesus an order.
I actually see this scene in my mind quite clearly as Jesus cocks his head to one side and studies Martha. He hasn’t even touched the plate she sat in front of him—because he’s been talking and teaching the whole time. He looks around the room and sees all the faces—these humans who are so hungry for him they also haven’t touched any of the food. In this moment of quiet they might nibble something, but most of them are eagerly leaning forward to see what he might say—after all it is this moment that might define the gender roles forever—are men the only ones who can enjoy and benefit from teaching while the women serve? Are women subservient? Second class?
And then he responds.
Stop doing so much, Martha. Stop all those action verbs—serving, working, troubling—stop doing and be with me more.
Listen then Serve, Not Serve then Listen
Jesus didn’t tell her that serving was bad. He just told her that she was worrying too much about things that don’t matter! That she needed to recenter her focus—less on what she was doing and more on who she was with!
In all her serving she had forgotten that she stood in the presence of Jesus.
She was so busy she almost missed it.
It doesn’t tell us how Martha responded. But given her actions the next time we meet up with her, I like to think she went a little slack jawed, then looked around the room and saw what Jesus saw.
And then she stopped to listen.
Why do I think this? Because Martha was also the sister who lost her brother, Lazarus. She sent for Jesus to come heal him, because she knew that he could, and then she waited. And watched. And nursed. And witnessed her brother die.
I have a sister. And a brother. I feel Martha’s struggles. I feel her pain. And while I don’t know if she is the oldest, I want to believe she is the middle kid given all her striving for perfection and acceptance. But it’s hard to say. Regardless, I feel this story on a deep and spiritual level. Watching someone you are close to—your brother—die and not being able to fix it is something akin to falling into a deep, deep well.
Down, down, down…
From that well, you hear Jesus. And you call out to him, as Martha did in John 11: 20-21, Lord, if only. If only you had come sooner! I know your power. I know your love. If only.
And then she could have stopped, but her next words are why I think she listened in her own home early—why I think she listened.
Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. John 11:22
Hope. Even at the bottom of that dark well, Martha found hope, not anger and righteous indignation we saw earlier in the story. She found light. The light. And she reached for it, and professed her faith loudly, firmly and with conviction of one who listened.
Yes, Lord; I believe that your re the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. John 11:27
We don’t hear that profession of faith from a lot of people in the Bible, but Martha is one of them who states it firmly and without hesitation and it is recorded for all to hear and remember throughout history.
Yes, Martha listened, but her practical nature can never be denied (um, Jesus, she says when he wants to open the tomb, he’s been in there a while…it’s gonna, you know, smell pretty bad…)…and honestly, I find a lot of comfort in that. Jesus changes our hearts and our motivations, but each of us is unique and he doesn’t want to change that about us. He accepts our unique qualities and even encourages it.
It is, after all, Martha’s home Jesus returns to 6 days before the Passover, where she serves him—only days before he is to die. Jesus seeks those who seek to serve and honor him. Even if he does have to correct them from time to time. We are, after all, just humans.