You all remember the story. Martha feels stuck in the kitchen, preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples, her most welcome family friends and guests. She can hear the laughter and the fun as it floats through the window to the front porch. They are sharing love and fellowship with one another. She would rather be there with them instead of slaving over a hot stove. We are not told this in the story, but I believe that Martha and her sister, Mary, had both been working hard before the guests arrived; cleaning the house, planning the menu, purchasing the food, preparing it, setting the table and so forth. Now that the guests are here, after the initial warm-hearted greetings when they arrived, Martha is the one who senses that the responsibility of getting the meal on the table is largely in her hands. Mary is once again doing what she does best, just sitting with the guests, hanging onto every word Jesus says. Rather than get angry and harbour resentment, Martha is outspoken and bold as to ask her sister to come and help; she even asks Jesus to support her, and requests that He send her into the kitchen. Then, Jesus, who sees the hearts of everyone, chides Martha publicly and says that Mary has chosen the better thing to do. As a young woman, when I first pondered more on this story, my heart just sank.

To this day, every time I read this passage or hear it in a sermon, I simply want to go in defence of Martha. I’m a blend of Martha and Mary and perhaps this touches a raw nerve! I know firsthand the feeling of being left out, when everyone is having fun without me, and I’m stuck with the sense of responsibility and duty, having been the oldest and trained that way. What am I supposed to do; drop everything and join in the laughter? I’ve tried that, and then I hear those digs and questions, “Well, when IS supper going to be ready?” I have never understood people who can sit, or stand and watch someone else work very hard, and they do not have the generosity of spirit to lend a hand. They can actually poke fun at you while you work. And yet everyone wants and needs the work to be done quickly, so we can all enjoy a time of relaxation together. Recently at a huge event, I overheard one woman say, “I hate cleaning up,” and she didn’t lift a finger to help. She got her coat and left. I wondered what Jesus’ comment to her would have been. Everyone else on the team had worked a whole lot harder than she ever did, and they remained to pitch in and help with final clean-up.
Perhaps some people are not capable of giving more, having a very delicate nature. If they would at least indicate by some words that they would like to help, but simply can’t, it would certainly be understood. Oh, I know, they don’t owe me an explanation. I do understand Martha in this story. It really is hard to give it your all and then be told, “You try too hard.” Here she was, trying to please Jesus. Or was she?

I also understand Mary. When I am with someone I love, I can drop everything and devote myself to spending time with that friend. Time doesn’t matter. The chores will keep. I value that relationship more than work. I can change my whole day’s activities just to be with my friend, especially when I sense and know my friend loves me and actually wants to spend time with me. I would also rather be deep in a discussion about issues of faith, than cooking, baking, serving and cleaning up. If I had a guest who could captivate my attention in the same way Jesus did, I would much rather sit and listen too. I have learned early in life though, that Jesus is truly the only Friend who actually wants to spend time with me; let’s face it, many people are fearful to be open and intimate on an emotional and spiritual level. Many have been hurt before and will not allow themselves to be vulnerable again. Many do not have strong interpersonal relationship skills or listening skills.

Even though I know in my heart when to be a Mary and when to be a Martha, I think I will always face these thoughts on this text in the Gospels. Not everyone who has an introvert personality by nature is a true ‘Mary’ in the spiritual realm, just as not everyone who is an extrovert by nature is a ‘Martha.’ We are ‘Mary’ if we have learned to put the things of the Lord ahead of the things of this world. I know that if I am first and foremost a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, then He will empower me to follow through on the Martha duties of my life.

Help me Lord, to be open to your leading, to learn to listen, and to make the right choice with a servant-hearted attitude. I know that you don’t love me more if I try too hard and I know that you won’t love me less if I just don’t measure up when it comes to trying.

When I see Jesus some day, I will ask Him all the questions this story raises in my heart. But then again, when I’ll see Jesus, I won’t need to ask them!


Shannon said...

I came here to say thanks for visiting me yesterday via BATW!

I just started a Bible study a few weeks ago... the book we are reading is called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life by Joanna Weaver... just thought you might find it interesting!

karin said...

Thanks for stopping by Shannon. Appreciate the comment about the book and your Bible study. Should find me a copy.

McMahon Manifesto said...

What a wonderful post! Some very deep thoughts on this blog and food for thought. I sure enjoy visiting your blog.

Marg said...

Thank you Karin for your thoughts in this post...I can tell that we have both contemplated this topic and seen both sides of these women. We have so much to learn from each other. I loved your post and would like to ask your permission to attach/link it next week when I continue my study on WWW.
It's always encouraging to allow other women to read thoughts and help them think out of the box...
I have a friend coming from SA in the next month and we have these wonderful discussions...I enjoy thinking and dialoguing with women on these kind of topics.
Thanks once again..

Anneliese said...

Deep thoughts. Because I tend to be more of a Martha that a Mary, I don't necessarily "like" what Jesus has to say here... but it's what I need to hear. He saw both hearts ... maybe, like you say, they had both worked ahead and Martha should have stopped fretting ... but if Mary had not lifted a finger before He came either, then I'd be upset too.

Evi said...

Something more to ponder: At the end there...I actually found it VERY interesting that you refer to Martha as an extrovert and Mary as an introvert (did I read that correctly?). Anyhow, I have always viewed them as opposite, when I am most introverted that is when I would rather do all the things behind the scenes, the kitchen work, so I can sink away but still be part of the event. I view Mary as such an extrovert, out there with the crowd, hanging on every exciting word. Hmm. I never thought of it the other way around.

Marcia Janson said...

Hi there, Karin! I just now discovered you through a comment you made on Rachel Held Evans' blog. I'm a fellow Albertan and perked up when I saw where you live :-)

You make some interesting points in this blog post. I'm very rarely accused of being "Martha-like", though I am trying harder to notice things that "need to be done around here". I appreciate the insights!