"Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love."
-- Ephesians 4:2
have always been intrigued by the Biblical story of Mary and Martha, as recorded in Luke 10:38-42. Two sisters: Mary the gentle, praying one who took time to sit with Jesus when he dropped by, and Martha the bustling, overworked lady who, above all, made sure her guests had plenty to eat.
Perhaps my fascination with this sister-sister relationship comes from knowing that, most of the time, I identify with Martha. And because 99 percent of the sermons I've heard on this text favored Mary, maybe I'm longing to hear a good word for us worker bees, too.
Picture the scene: Jesus and his disciples have come to visit, Martha is preparing the meal all by herself, and Mary is just sitting there with her guests. "Lord," Martha complains, "don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work? Tell her to come and help me" (verse 40). From her tone, we can guess Martha's hostility has been building for a long time. Still, Jesus seems to be on Mary's side.
"Martha, Martha," he replies, "you are troubled by many things. Mary has chosen the better part and it shouldn't be taken away from her" (verse 41-42).
We're not told whether Martha dropped her apron and her criticism of her sister, or if at some point Mary did her share of the housework, too. But we do know this is not the end of the two sisters' tale.
No other home is mentioned in the Gospels where Jesus and his disciples could find refuge from the crowds except that of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. The travelers must have known they would be welcomed, even unannounced, and they must have felt comfortable there or they would not have come. A home with a peaceful atmosphere has to have order in it, and order means work. Even if there were servants, someone needed to supervise the staff, buy supplies and take care of other duties if this atmosphere were to be maintained.
Martha was good at that. And reading between the lines, we can tell Jesus isn't showing any lack of appreciation to her. He is only sympathizing because her life is consumed with more work than necessary. Also, he knew his days on earth were coming to an end, and he longed more for the sisters' company than for their physical food.
When we meet the two women again, Lazarus has just died. Although they had sent for Jesus several days earlier, He didn't arrive in time to heal their brother from his sickness. True to form, when Martha the activist heard that Jesus was nearing her house, she ran out to meet him. As was her pattern, Mary stayed home, praying and weeping.
"Lord, if only you had been here my brother would not have died," Martha exclaimed (John 11:21). This time, instead of Jesus chastening Martha, she is chastening him.
But surprisingly, now comes one of the most important conversations in the New Testament. Martha, the woman with an abrasive personality who had never learned the art of sitting still, is the first person to whom Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life...," and she is the first to call him the Son of God (verse 25-27).
And where is her sister? When Jesus learned that Mary was still at home he sent Martha to get her. If this important detail had been omitted, Mary would have missed her brother's miraculous return to life (verse 38-44). This time Martha is the one Jesus rewards, and it is Mary who receives his gentle rebuke.
ary and Martha are examples of our extremes. Each woman had good points and Jesus loved them both. But he seems to be saying to them as well as to us, "There is a time to pray and weep, and there is a time to rise and act."
Sometimes even our strongest points need a course correction.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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