As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. "Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand."
The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her." - Luke 10:38-42, from The Message
I don’t much care for this story.
Oh, I get how beautifully counter-cultural it is: Mary is sitting before Jesus, which meant that she had taken a position right alongside the male disciples, which meant an astonishing equality of status in a profoundly unegalitarian time.
And I get how it fits with the "Good Samaritan" story, which came just before. To that questioner Jesus said, "Go and practice compassion"; to this one Jesus said, "Stop and listen." Jesus gave situational lessons, tailored to what his listener needed, more often than universal directives.
Still I don’t care for the story. I have far more affinity for Martha than for Mary. Give me a choice between cleaning the kitchen and a crowded conversation: I’ll do the dishes, every time.
Maybe Jesus knows Martha, and me, better than we do ourselves. Maybe we’re hiding in the suds. Maybe he is not putting down domestic work at all, but calling us out of our comfort zone to receive, in company, what we cannot receive alone.
I don’t much like the story — but the Bible doesn’t ask me to like, just to heed. I do get that there are times when the best thing is to take care of the house, and times when the best thing is to risk feeding the heart.
Jesus, kindly bless our unglamorous work that is good to do — and kindly call us to set that work aside when the living Word of love comes calling. Amen.
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.