Martha gets a bad rap.
I wish I had a new tablecloth for every time I’ve heard women at a ladies’ fellowship, women’s conference or bible study say, “Are you a Martha or are you a Mary?” My linen closet couldn’t hold the stack. The insinuation is that we should strive to be like Mary, not Martha. And those of us who are planners and doers timidly, ashamedly raise our hands. Bad us. Come on ladies, let’s be like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus! Dry your hands, leave the dishes and come join the party. Stop sweating the details.
This all stems from a story found in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus came to Mary and – er – the two ladies’ home for supper. Martha, distracted by all the dinner preps and miffed that Mary was lingering near Jesus, listening to His teaching, came to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work? Tell her to help me.” Jesus told Martha that she was worried and upset about many things and Mary had chosen what was better.
Come on people, it was a bad hair day. It was a choice, not a character flaw. And there’s nothing wrong with being a detail person or being organized. Martha’s sin was getting upset and worried about the preps instead of seeing the golden opportunity of gleaming from the words of Jesus, not in taking time to plan for a dinner party.
I’ve had days like that. Admit it, you’ve had days like that. All of us, at one time or another, have switched our priorities and taken our focus off of Jesus. Every time I have guests, I have to remind myself that ministry comes in many forms and I need to place more importance on the internals rather than the externals. The externals are only a tool to help me accomplish the more important goals. Recently, I had a traveling men’s quartet in my home. Yes, they needed lunch. Far more than food, they needed a home environment to crash and to be “off-stage” for awhile. So I bought fried chicken instead of making it myself. Frying chicken would definitely make me worried and upset. Instead, I baked homemade rolls, so my home would be filled with the wonderful scent of homemade bread that would send the clear invitation, “Welcome to my home!” It worked. As one man left, he said, “Thank you. Our meal was both relaxing and delicious.” High five it! That was my goal.
Martha and Mary appear in other biblical accounts as well. Jesus dilly-dallied in returning their urgent message about their sick brother, Lazarus. Martha, the thinker, met Jesus on the road and had this awesome discussion about the resurrection of the dead. In a society where women were excluded from the more scholarly guy talks, she had her theology head screwed on a lot straighter than most men of her generation. Catch her wording in John 11:24- 27. She repeats “I know” three times! Martha was much further along in the process of grief than Mary, who continued to weep at her home over her brother’s death.
And then there’s the story in John 12. Again, Mary gets the limelight because she does this beautiful thing of anointing Jesus’ body with this expensive alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus says she will be remembered forever for what she did. But there is one little phrase that seems to slip past the radar of Bible study material writers. John 12:2 says that a dinner was given at their home in Jesus honor and Martha served.
I may be on theological thin ice here. From all the accounts in the New Testament, I get the idea that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were wealthy people. After all, they had the means to give at least two dinner parties in Jesus’ honor for a bunch of people. If they had that much, who would have served? Servants! Yet Martha took the role of a servant and served the Lord herself.
I like Martha because Martha matured, changed and grew in her devotion to Jesus. Martha struggled and grappled with her faith. Martha was real. She had her good days and her bad days – just like me. And in less than three years, she had moved from worrying about dinner preps to actually serving. Instead of being in the back kitchen, stewing over the stew, she was out serving – doing the work that needed to be done but still within earshot of the dinner party so she could listen to Jesus.
Yes, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll keep my Martha status. At least, I want to be a Martha who, daily, becomes more devoted to Jesus.