Luke 10:38 – 42 (NIV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
For the longest time, this was my least favourite story in scripture. In fact, it really frustrated me. I would defend Martha to anyone, because if she didn’t do all of the preparations, like make the meals, no one would have eaten.
As was probably similar to that day, I picture my grandfather, my dad, my husband, and many other men I know who work hard to provide for their families, but don’t necessarily work in the kitchen, and have a certain expectation that their wives cook for them. It might be an old school way of thinking, but it’s been around for centuries and it’s what I know. (I don’t currently work out of the home, so I’m happy to do it.)
If you have potluck dinners at your church, how many men help out with them? None or not many? Probably. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying that’s how it is. The expectation is silently there, and we all know it.
So in this story, I picture the men listening to Jesus, yet wondering what’s for lunch. There’s an expectation that Martha will provide a meal. And she feels the weight of the expectation, knowing that if she doesn’t provide food, her guests will not be happy. She’ll be shamed for not being the hostess the Levitical law demands.
Then there’s Mary. She clearly doesn’t care about feeding all these houseguests that she probably didn’t even want in her house in the first place. Typical younger sister. In my mind, Martha’s the older of the two, based on her sense of responsibility and go getter attitude. That’s our job as the oldest, but it would be nice to have the younger siblings help every once and a while. (When we were kids, my younger sister purposely refused to learn how to do things so that she wouldn’t ever be asked to do them. Callous and brilliant all at the same time!)
I completely understand and empathize with Martha’s frustration. Hence why I never liked this story. All she wants is for Jesus to stick up for her and get some help, and he has the audacity to take the other side! I wonder what went on in her mind after Jesus stuck up for Mary. I would have been fuming mad. “Fine then, ya’ll can starve then. See if I care.”
But something wonderful happened to me last night. Completely changed the game for me. I realized Martha was talking to Jesus, the miracle-working provider. Last night, the Lord let me in on a little secret: if Martha would have chosen the same as Mary, Jesus would have provided the meal, like he had so many other times before. He turned water into wine at a wedding, when there was no more left. He fed thousands of people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, more than once. He would have done it again here, if needed.
I then pictured a different story. Maybe how Jesus would have really liked it to go: as Jesus is talking and Mary is sitting at his feet, drinking in every word, he sees Martha struggling inwardly. He knows she so desperately wants to do the same, but the expectation of the meal is there and she’s torn. He catches her eye and nods his head, motioning her to come join them. She sighs heavily and is about to turn away, towards the kitchen, but then stops. “Wait,” she thinks to herself, “if he’s asking me to come, and I really want to come, perhaps I should surrender the expectation of everyone else, and just come.” So she breaks the Levitical law of being a good hostess, and joins her sister on the floor, right at Jesus’ feet. No one will be having lunch at her house, she supposes.
Jesus smiles and keeps sharing. I can see him beaming with joy, because that’s all he wants from her: her undivided attention and whole heart.
The ‘service’ is over and people are hungry. Martha gets up off the floor and starts to panic a bit. Now what does she do? She timidly heads for the ‘kitchen’ wondering what to do with all these hungry people. She looks up and stops right in her tracks. The table is full of beautiful, delicious dishes of food. More than she could have ever made herself! Some were dishes she had never even seen before! “Oh, why did I ever worry? I know Jesus is my provider! I should have known that if he asked me to be with him, he’d make a way where there was no way!”
She looks through the crowd of now very happy people, and catches Jesus’ eye. He lovingly smiles and offers her a wink. Their little secret. Her heart is fuller than it has ever been in her life.
Everyone eats and is delightfully satisfied. Her delicious dinner is the talk of the town. And no one knows, except her and Jesus that she didn’t even make it. Instead, she surrendered her time to him, and in return, he wonderfully took care of all the other details. Just like he’s always done, and will continue to do, for every surrendered life.
I’m not saying that you should quit your job, or stop cooking dinner for your family. Responsibilities of life must still be done. I am saying that there are things in our lives, mine included, we are concerned about, that are not important. Expectations that we put on ourselves that don’t need to be there. What amount of time could be better spent at Jesus’ feet, soaking in his words, getting to know his beautiful, perfect heart? What am I willing to give up to do this?