now it happened as they went that [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a certain woman named martha welcomed Him into her house. and 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 approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? therefore tell her to help me."
And Jesus answered and said to her, "martha, martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. but one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." luke 10:38-42
this is a well known story especially among women and though the stage may be unique to this particular story, the exchange is one we have certainly observed if not one in which we've participated. thus we can easily identify with at least one the characters and, if we're honest, admit that we demonstrate a bit of both women at some point or another.
If you tend to be a martha, your heart goes out to the overworked and dependable woman and you can easily insert yourself into this situation. an important teacher and religious leader, a good friend of your brother's, comes to your house after much traveling and you wish to honor Him, showing all He means to your family by tending to the needs of Him and His companions, feeding them, and maybe even washing and mending their clothes. to these responsibilities you can add the already substantial list of duties that come with running a household as well as the time you spend completing the work that your sister has forgotten or left unfinished. meanwhile, that same sister has abandoned the few chores entrusted to her and is now sitting with rapt attention at the feet of this honorable man and listening to His teaching along with His own companions. it is impertinant, you think, and very nearly embarassing the way she has made herself so comfortable with this Man while you humbly slave away in womanly fashion. irritation, indignation, and embarassment mix with jealousy and a weary longing and overpower your sense of propriety and you appeal to this good Man to justify your frustrations and right the obvious wrong being done to you.
mary, embarassed, leaps to her feet, honestly surprised because, as always, the needs of others have escaped her attention. you know without a doubt that it never occurred to her to offer to help you or take over so you could rest a moment and listen to this blessed Man who has come to your house. somehow her innocence only adds to your frustration because now you feel like a villain for simply asking for a little help. to make matters infinitely worse, this Man looks on you with unfathomable pity and love and refuses to ask mary to do her part. of course you cannot be angry with Him, and now somehow it seems as if all you've done to show your respect and love has been discarded. irritation is replaced by rejection and, again, the overwhelming sense of weariness.
my heart too goes out to martha, who indeed intended to do a good thing by busying herself with "much serving" but, in this instance, missed the blessing that her Savior had for her. martha really is in a tough spot because she has a great deal of the world supporting her position, yet according to Christ, it is wrong. as Christians we are to encourage one another to good works and to be servants of all, yet here we see the Lord Jesus Christ discouraging this woman, this servant, from her labors and encouraging her to slow down, to be idle even. there seems always to be frustration at the juncture of restful communion and diligent serving particularly by those doing the serving. behind this seeming contradiction is the most primal of struggles known to the human race: the flesh versus the spirit.
since the day we left the garden, our lives have been characterized by toil and struggle. we fight against the earth, the sky, other creatures, and even ourselves. Jesus Christ came to restore the peace we once had in paradise. it seems like a simple equation yet moment the spirit is given new life, it draws a sword against the advances of the flesh which, to be honest, by reason of tenure, has a significant advantage.
the eternal spirit is only at home and at peace in the presence of God, this can never truly happen so long as we are on the earth in these bodies. peter s. beagle writes a story of a unicorn, an immortal creature, being temporarily turned into a human. she expresses great distress and fear once she takes her human form, for, throughout her entire life, she has never experienced mortality and thus to be trapped within the confines of a dying human body is shocking and frightening to her. this is not so different than the struggle we experience after this spiritual rebirth. the apostle paul describes our spirits as groaning with desire for immortality in 2 cor 5:4: "we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life."
though we may be turned right side up by the grace of God the human race and even the earth itself is still plagued by this discord until they are righted by God. until such a time, even as we experience peace with our God we continue to experience strife with the world and even ourselves .
the industrious and dominating elder sister and her lovably clueless and slightly lazy younger sister.
Do not neglect the promise given by Jesus at the end of this passage, "and it will not be taken away from her."