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Are you Martha or Mary?

POSTED: November 4, 2011 7:00 a.m.

The story of Mary and Martha is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with preparations for her guest, Jesus and his disciples, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complains to Jesus, he tells her that Mary has chosen what is better.
Joanna Weaver writes in her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, “When I read the first part of Mary and Martha’s story, I must admit I find myself cheering for Martha. I know we tend to sing Mary’s praises in bible studies. But Martha, to be honest, appeals more to my perfectionist tendencies.
“What a woman! She opens her home to a band of 13 hungry men, possibly more. What a hostess! She doesn’t whip up an impromptu casserole of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Ballpark Franks as I’ve been known to do on occasion. Not her!
She is the original Martha Stewart, the New Testament’s Proverbs 31 woman, and Israel’s answer to Betty Crocker. Or at least that’s the way I imagine her. She’s the Queen of the Kitchen — and the rest of the house as well.
“And Luke’s story starts with Martha in her glory. After all, this is Jesus. She scraps her ordinary everyday menu of soup and bread and pulls out all her cookbooks. This, she decides, will be a banquet fit for a messiah. For the Messiah. Martha sends one servant to the field to slaughter a lamb, another to the market to pick up a few of those luscious pomegranates she saw yesterday. Like a military general, she barks commands to her kitchen staff. Soak the lentils! Pound the grain! Knead the dough!
“So many things to do and so little time. She must make sure the centerpiece and the napkins match, that the servant pours the wine from the right and not the left. Martha’s mind is as busy as a room filled with kindergartners. What would be just right for dessert? A little goat cheese with a tray of fresh fruit? Will Jesus and his followers stay overnight? Someone must change the sheets and fold some towels.
“’Where’s Mary? Has anyone seen Mary?’ she asks a servant scurrying by. If Mary changed the sheets, Martha might have time to fashion an ark from the cheese and carve the fruit into little animals marching two by two. Productions of this magnitude require the skill of a master planner. And Martha’s an administrator extraordinaire — a whirling dervish of efficiency, with a touch of Tasmanian she-devil thrown in to motivate the servants.” (pages 3-4)
I can just imagine how angry Martha was at Mary. A woman was NOT supposed to be sitting in a room with men. She should know her place! It is easy to understand why Martha complains to Jesus.  After all, he knows a woman’s place and he is a person of authority. Let him get Mary moving.
But Jesus surprised Martha. He sees her situation and understands her complaint. However, he loves her too much to give her what she wants.  Instead, he gives her what she needs: an invitation to draw closer to him. 
Jesus was concerned that Martha’s busyness kept her from him. Her fault wasn’t that she served but that her service was all consuming. Jesus was inviting Martha to find a balance between serving and sitting at his feet listening.
I am a both Mary and Martha (most of us are). To balance these two hearts is not easy. It takes work and a conscious effort. Jesus invites us to sit at his feet at worship, in devotions and bible study and through prayer. This is where we can find intimacy with God.
I’ll close with Joanna Weaver’s words, “Service without spirituality is exhausting and hopeless and spirituality without service is barren and selfish — they need to be united and done as unto the Lord.’”  (page 86)

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