Martha is irritated. You can hear it in her tone.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Why would Martha speak to her male guest, her teacher, her Jesus like this? Even in today’s culture, could you imagine asking your houseguest to chide your sister for not helping you with the chores?
When I first read this passage, Jesus’ words to Martha, “you are worried and distracted by many things” rang in my head like a morning alarm clock.
If I were Martha, I’d respond, “Of course, I’m worried and distracted — I’m a working mom of two teenagers. I’ve got deadlines to meet, family schedules to track, carpools to coordinate, laundry piling up, and a commitment to myself not to gain a hundred pounds while managing ALL the things. I can’t do everything I’m called to do without being a little worried and distracted.” I’d be irritated, too.
I imagined Martha trying her darn best — cleaning their whole home in preparation for Jesus’ visit; freshening herself up before greeting him, smiling at the door; delivering carefully prepared platters of broiled fish, bread soaked with honey, pomegranates and pickled cucumbers to his table; running back and forth to the kitchen to make sure his wine glass never ran low. And while Martha does all this, there sits Mary at Jesus’ feet, monopolizing his attention and stealing his approval.
Martha is following the expected customs of hospitality, and Jesus and his disciples relied on the kindness of strangers as they traveled. When Jesus tells Martha that Mary is right to sit and listen at his feet, he is not saying that Martha should abandon all her hard work of hospitality. Jesus is not saying that we are not to do for others or work hard or be active agents of the gospel in the world. Oh, no. Jesus is saying we should be doing all this, and we should sit at his feet and listen.
Martha’s irritation builds and builds. Out of her frustration comes a question she cracks over Jesus like a whip. “Lord,” she asks, “do you not care?”
I’d ask the same question. Don’t you see me running around? Don’t you realize how much effort and energy all this takes? And yet you want me to stop and pay attention to you? Jesus, do you not care?
This exchange feels familiar, like the recurring argument I have with my husband over whose turn it is to do the late pick up of our kid. But loving relationships aren’t built on score cards. And this seems to be where Jesus is really going with Martha.
Jesus asks more of Martha not because he doesn’t care, but because he does. He appreciates her kindness, but he also wants time with her. Jesus tells Martha that the care she puts into her relationship with him, the time she invests in sitting and listening in his presence, will not be taken away from her. I know how my marriage has benefited from my husband and I spending daily time sitting and listening to each other each night after our kids have gone to bed. I know how my spiritual relationship has benefited from time spent in prayer and conversation with God. Through these practices, our relationships are stronger, deeper, and richer. Everything we do is fed by it.
Jesus wants a relationship with us that will feed every aspect of our lives and work. If we invest ourselves in him, the gifts we receive in return will not be taken away.
Questions for reflection:
- What thoughts or feelings arise for you as you read this passage?
- When have you felt as if Jesus was asking too much? How did you respond?
- How do you invest in your most important relationships? How do you invest in your relationship with God?