A prominent professor plans to visit my house. Dust flies as I morph into a whirling dervish of cleaning activity. No cobwebbed corners or dusty lampshades remain after my duster scours through the house. Delightful aromas from a multitude of appetizers welcome the special guest. Behind him, an entourage of fanatical disciples drag dust onto my clean floors.
Hurrying into the kitchen, I add more potatoes to the pot and throw together a few more savory apple pies. Glancing up from wiping down the counters for the eighth time, I catch a glimpse of my sister, sitting cross-legged on the floor at the feet of the famous teacher. Blood boils and only the gritting of my teeth keeps some nasty rejoinder from burning the ears off that lazy woman.
Every woman can relate to the emotions displayed in this illustration. Excitement about hosting a well-known person transforms to high speed industry preparing the house. All those extra guests raise the temperature on the anxiety scale. We just want to demonstrate our hospitality. (Well, maybe we want to impress the important people, too.)
I have always been able to identify with Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Women know that their home is a haven and in offering sanctuary in this place for other people, we feel we can serve The Lord. In 1 Peter 4:9, we’re instructed to “use hospitality one to another without grudging.” I display a picture in my house that reads: “If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home.” It took me decades to reach a place where I truly believe this motto.
I have never imagined Martha’s question for Jesus delivered in a whiny tone. Her concern is legitimate. Around her, men need to be fed and things aren’t finished for the meal preparation. Why didn’t she go up to Mary, tap her on the shoulder and whisper, “I need your help in the kitchen?” Perhaps she knew that Mary would refuse her. Maybe she figured with right on her side, Jesus would champion her cause.
Even with all these unanswered queries, we can relate to Martha. All of us admire Martha for her work ethic and hospitality. How do we feel about Mary?
In every group, one woman always seems to sit back and watch the others work. Perhaps she visits with the elderly while the dishes are being washed. Maybe she chats with the pastor while others sweep and mop the floor. We know her and we wonder why she never pitches in when there’s work to be done.
Is this what Mary is doing? Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (Luke 10:39). Mary isn’t shirking her hostessing responsibilities. She isn’t pawning off the hard work on her older sister. Mary sidles up to the Rabbi’s feet and soaks in his marvelous words.
When work needs doing, it’s hard for women to sit back without doing it. Jesus admonishes us in this passage that there is a time for physical serving and a time for spiritual soaking. Mary chose to bask in the Master’s doctrine while Martha chose to bake him a delicious treat.
Listening to Jesus speak is “needful” (v. 42) and the truth is, the dishes will wait. No one will starve if the food isn’t ready precisely at noon. In order to serve The Lord, we need to hear His Word and apply it to our hearts and lives.
In fact, Jesus said the time spent at His feet “shall not be taken away” (v. 42) from us. In a matter of minutes, the floors will be muddy, the tables will be dusty and the dishes will need washing. All the food we spent hours preparing will be consumed. Remainders of our hard work are fleeting. Time spent learning about Jesus lasts long after the final guest has departed.
Do you identify more with Mary or Martha? Have you been challenged to change your approach to cooking and cleaning when the Bible is being taught in the next room?
Up next week: Learning to Love Others