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A WORD FOR TODAY, July 20, 2021
“As they went on their way, he entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came up to him, and said, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.’ Jesus answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42, WEB
Martha was busy in the kitchen; she was trying to meet the physical needs of a large crowd. She knew it was her responsibility to provide hospitality to those who came through her door, and she went right to work. It was a daunting task; if you have ever tried to cook for more than a dozen people, you know that it is hectic and exhausting. There are a million things to do, and it all would get done so much better if there were more hands in the kitchen.
Mary found a spot at the feet of Jesus, listening to His stories and learning about the Kingdom of God. I can identify with Martha; I have had my own martyr moments. That’s what I call those times when it seems like I’m doing all the work and everyone around me is ignoring my cries for help. What I don’t realize that I don’t always ask for help. I get caught up in my aggravation and stress out over every little detail, convincing myself that if I don’t do it, it will never get done. At that point I have already convinced myself that it has to get done or the event won’t be perfect. That’s usually the problem: I put too much pressure on myself and worry about insignificant things. Did we really need to have hand-rolled scrolls with tiny bows for the program? Was it necessary for the green beans to be all the same length? Did I really need to change the color of the table linens because the flowers were a slight shade off?
(BTW, those aren’t real examples of stresses that I’ve experienced in the past, but I assure you that some of them have been just as absurd.)
Martha was worried because she wanted everything to be perfect, and it seemed as though no one cared enough to help. Even Mary, who was jointly responsible for receiving Jesus, was ignoring her pleas for help. Did she really ask? Or did she grumble to herself in the kitchen until she was so angry that she took her problem to Jesus? She doesn’t ask Mary; she tells Jesus to command her to help.
I have been in many conversations about this text that inevitably ends up commiserating with Martha. We hostess types understand. We identify with her. We know that the work has to be done. One member of our study asked, “What would those men say if there was no food for dinner?” We laugh and we always focus on the reality that Martha must work if they will eat. But what I have noticed in this text is that Jesus doesn’t tell her she shouldn’t feed them, but that she shouldn’t worry about so many things. Jesus was happy to eat a few kernels of wheat walking through a field; He didn’t need a feast with ironed linens and favors. After all, He did an amazing thing with a few loaves of bread and some fish.
The key here is to find the balance between Martha and Mary. Yes, Mary chose the good part, but we are not meant to ignore our responsibilities to spend all our time at worship and prayer. It is interesting that this story of Martha and Mary in Luke is found immediately following Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. This is important because we have first learned that it is up to us to take care of our neighbors who are in need. Martha was serving, showing mercy to Jesus and the disciples who were surely hungry and tired after their journey. She was a “Good Samaritan” in action.
Jesus didn’t call her out because she was busy with work, but because she was distracted from God. It is easy for that to happen to all of us, especially when we are serving by showing mercy to those who are in need. We get so caught up in the absurd details and miss the good part. We might be working hard to feed bodies, but what about spirits? When we are so caught up in the insignificant things, we ignore the people who have been placed in our path. We forget that they need our hearts as much as our hands. This might just need to stop, step out of the kitchen, and spend time with the person we are serving. Those who are hungry and tired surely need our hands, but they also need us to be present. That is truly the good part.
A WORD FOR TODAY is posted five days a week – Monday through Friday. The devotional on Wednesday takes a look at the scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday. A WORD FOR TODAY is posted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Word-for-Today-Devotional/339428839418276. Like the page to receive the devotion through Facebook. For information and to access our archives, visit http://www.awordfortoday.org.