I’ve always thought of myself as more of a Mary than a Martha. You may be familiar with the biblical story. Jesus comes to visit a couple of M named sisters. Martha plays the dutiful host behind the scenes, buries herself in the kitchen, taking care of stuff. Sure, there are no scan pans, or stainless steel appliances, no on-trend meal plans, but you can see it vivid as day, the woman with her hands furious busy and her head bent down over the meal prep. Maybe she can already feel the muscular tension creeping in, circling its way around the fibres of her neck, even as she hears their voices soft in the background: because when someone walks into your house —when the Lord walks in —you need to pull out some stops.
Meanwhile Mary’s nowhere near a tension headache…or a utensil for that matter. Rather than rushing round doing, she’s sitting down. Like a guest. Not stewed up achieving, but simply listening.
I wonder how long it took for it to happen. Finally, Martha, up to her eyeballs in tasks and tsk tsking bursts out from behind her work station, words of frustration flying up her throat, hotter than the meal she is preparing boiling out her mouth. Don’t you care?! she addresses Jesus. My sister’s left me high and dry. Make her make up for it. Tell the woman to get into the kitchen!!!(My paraphrase, Luke 10: 40).
As I said earlier, in this picture I’ve always thought of myself as more of a Mary. Anyone who knows me even a little knows ‘kitchen’ is a troubling word for me. ‘Cooking’ even more so. I’ve been married to my dear husband for over a decade, but for at least half that time, okay more, he has had to put up with regularly overcooked (read ‘burnt’) dinners, and a sore lack of culinary creativity. Needless to say, in our pre-kids days, he was our main chef.
‘Oh, he loves it,’ I’d add hastily when we had guests over and my husband donned the apron and took up the spatula. And he did. And he does. He has a natural flair for cooking. He’s one of those people who can look at a near empty fridge,a seemingly illogical array of foods, and make magic. I think we even called them ‘Invention tests’ before Masterchef came along.
Although the advent of three kids in four years, an increasingly full life, and that wonderful space age appliance called a thermomix has shifted the balance over time, I still feel myself leaning more into the Mary camp. I’ve always said I’d much rather listen to someone teaching, preaching, or just plain storytelling, whether live or within the pages of a book, than most anything else.
That is, until I realised that Jesus wasn’t just talking about the kitchen. Of course he wasn’t. If anyone is going to go wider and deeper than the categories and divisions we create, of course it’s going to be the Lord of the Universe. Let’s pause for a moment and think about it. How revolutionary a statement it is. A first century male, the Saviour come walking on earth, telling a woman to get OUT of the kitchen. If anyone worries about the Bible’s conservatism, another look at some of Jesus’ statements, much less relationships with women, is a stark reminder of his radical orientation in all things. Even domestic spheres.
Jesus, the ultimate listener, and knower of hearts looked deeper than Martha’s surface boil over, and no doubt he looks deeper than our own hearts. Which makes me pause and consider: perhaps I am much more of a Martha than I think.
Jesus’ advice to all us Martha’s
It’s important before we go any further to start where Jesus starts. With the person. Before he says anything else, Jesus calls Martha by name. Some versions render it in repitition, Martha, Martha, other versions like the NLT translate it, ‘My dear Martha.’ Either way, there is undoubtedly affection in the naming.
Jesus’ next words are the ones that get me, that make me interrogate my self-proclaimed Mary likeness, to see my Martha-interior. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed —or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV).
Do you know the words that jump out at me here: many things.
I recently started a little series here entitled “Decluttering Me: Ambitioning a Quiet Life”, because, quite frankly, all the many things, not just on the surfaces of my life, but nestled within me—even those things that have grown familiar, that I’ve grown quite fond of, and dependent on— are starting to be more trouble than help. Perhaps it’s, dare I voice it, the fast approach of middle age (did I just openly own that phrase?!) Perhaps it’s the stream of information in the media at the moment, on waste and white surfaces, a simultaneous, oftentimes contradictory obsession with purging and preserving, but I’ve got STUFF on my mind.
And when Jesus says it not harshly but kindly, not as an accusation so much as a gentle admonition, I suddenly find myself feeling very much in Martha’s camp. Martha/Nikki…” you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed —or indeed only one.”
Anxious. Fretful. About many things. YES. It turns out that the maker of minds is reading my mind. Plumbing below the dusty surfaces of my day-to-day life, peeling back the layers to go much deeper in. To my worn and wearied heart.
So, what is that One Thing?
What separates the M sisters, Mary and Martha? What makes Mary able to sit still and listen and find clarity while Martha spins herself into a confusion? What is that one thing that the Lord endorses so strongly here?
Not just any relationship, but relationship with our Saviour. In a world screaming for our attention, asking us to answer back loud anc proud with quantifiable things, with achievements and accomplishments, with ticked to -do boxes, and a carefully boxed up life, Jesus asks then and now only for this. The quiet, presence of a listening ear. The faithful dependence of a soul.
It sounds so easy?
Yet then, why do I find it so hard to do. In days filled with SO MUCH chaos, pausing and being silent, opening my Bible, lowering my head in prayer (rather than, ahem, over my phone),my fingers and eyeballs stilled, can feel counter-intuitive. But in fact, if I want to declutter my soul, to counter the culture of excess that enters and obscures my vision, than this is the VERY thing I need to do. Indeed, it is the one thing that lasts.