Sunday, December 21, 2008


OK, so I'm a little fretful at the moment. I just wrote a blog, and as I was typing the last line, my computer froze and I had to reboot, losing the entire post.  Incredibly annoying.  Chances are I won't be able to recreate it. Sigh.  But here goes nothing.

My mother-in-law was the quintessential wife. I've always wished I had one of just like her! I'm not kidding.  She could set a beautiful table, cook a wonderful meal, and make every occasion a party.  She was a great seamstress, made spectacular stained glass windows and figurines, made metalworked lamps (yes, hoisting a welding torch and everything).  She knit amazing sweaters, the afghan I'm sitting under as I write, so complex I can't imagine reproducing it.  She kept in touch with myriad people, writing notes in her perfect penmanship (I have her old address book, and there are notations galore by each entry!).  She once had personal business cards created which read, "Coordinator of Domestic Affairs."  And she was.   She presided over her home with great calm and grace, and few things seemed to faze her. Needless to say, it was a little--or a lot!--intimidating.

See, I grew up with a mother who wasn't much of a housekeeper, and even the most ordinary meals were cause for a trip to the store, slamming of pots and a raised voice at her children.  "Whose turn is it to set the table?" or "Get in here and make the salad (a dreaded job!)". My parents didn't entertain much either, but when they did (usually relatives from out of town!), it really stressed out my mother.  And, though I grew up having to share in cooking activities (we had up to nine people at most meals), I never really liked it.  More often than not, I made myself absent (which may account for why mom had to yell!).

So when Beve announced to me on our honeymoon--sincerely believing he was doing something honorable--that the kitchen would be my domain, I didn't have the reaction I'm sure he expected.  Being a good little wife, however, I marched to the kitchen, my heart so heavy I tripped over it.  Fortunately for all of us, Beve actually loves cooking--shoot he's a much better baker than I could ever be--and I've bungled my way through domestic chores.  We get by, I should say.

The truth is, I'm not a Martha.  You know that expression?  It comes from the gospel encounter of Jesus with a family he was clearly very fond of.  This family--Martha (the home owner, it appears), Mary and their brother Lazarus--is featured three times (Luke 10, John 11, 12).  In Luke 10, Jesus has come to their home with his followers (probably more than just His 12 disciples) and is teaching while a meal is being prepared.  Martha--being 'A Martha'--is supervising the meal prep, and I don't mean she's slapping together some PB and J sandwiches!  It's serious work, cooking for the crowd in the living room, and not a little stressful.  She looks around the kitchen for the one person she expects to help shoulder the load--her sister!--but Mary's nowhere to be seen.  Brushing the sweat from her eyes, Martha glances through the door into the crowded living room, and there she sits, gazely intently up at Jesus from her place at His feet. A line waiting for the bathrooms, food to be carried to the table, and Mary sits there doing NOTHING??? Well, Martha goes from zero to sixty in about half a second and, hands on her hips, marches in and confronts Jesus.  Interestingly, she doesn't take Mary aside and ask for help, she doesn't speak to Mary at all.  She addresses her displeasure to Jesus.  This is very telling.  To speak as bluntly as Martha does to the Teacher--Incarnate God Himself--is pretty nervy, don't you think?  She must have already known Him VERY well.  And John 11 will tell us (I'll talk about that story tomorrow), that Jesus loved Martha greatly--and her sister and brother.  When she speaks to Him so roughly, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left all the work to me?  Tell her to help."  It's a little like the way my children used to complain about their tasks, pointing fingers at their siblings when they thought they were working harder than the others.

And maybe Martha was on the hillside when Jesus fed the 5000.  Maybe she's hoping Jesus will perform a miracle here as well.  So she goes straight to Him.  When the disciples did this--"Lord, these people are hungry, and we have no food!"--Jesus gives them a full meal deal, with leftovers to spare.  Martha might be imagining a feast whipped up and set on her table, so she can join Mary in the living room. 

But Jesus doesn't want to change Martha's circumstances.  He's never interested in miracles for their own sake--He doesn't have to prove anything.  Remember, He doesn't look at outward appearances, but at the heart.  And what He saw in Martha was fretfulness and worry.  It isn't the work that is the problem, as we sometimes think is the case.  It isn't that it's wrong to be the worker bee, it's that Martha's heart needed adjusting.  Mary is sitting at His feet, attending to what He's saying, paying close attention to Jesus, resolved to abide with Him, not just hearing a word or two.

Because here's the truth.  It's just as easy to be a Martha sitting in a church pew as it is cooking over a stove.  If we're making lists of what is wrong with the service, if we're harboring resentments and bitterness toward those around us (including our spouses), if we're so worried about what isn't being done by others compared to what we're doing, then we're in exactly Martha's position.  On the other hand, if we're doing our work--whether it's cleaning toilets or writing, baking cookies or teaching others--if we're doing it with worship inside, then we're Mary.  I think it's not either/or for most of us, but both/and.

See, I know I have much of Mary in me. At least in externals.  I'm a lot more apt to sit at His feet than to feed a crowd of people.  But I've much of Martha in me as well--I get stressed out by tasks, fretful and worried about so many things.  And I think this is part of the growing up in Christ that the Spirit has to do in me.  After all, I even got upset about a lost post!

"Martha is who we are, Mary is who we hope to become," Augustine said.

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