Usually it's "Mary and Martha," so I'm switchin' it up. I've always been a little upset about the story of Martha and Mary in the Bible. Take a look: "Now as they were traveling along, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to his word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.' But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her' " (Luke 10:38-42).
I'm completely sympathetic to Martha here. Of course she's irritated. Someone has to do the cooking, someone has to get everyone a drink of water, someone has to do the cleaning. Mary is just sitting there, not doing any work, knowing that Martha will take care of it all because that's what she does.
Then I feel guilty. I'm supposed to be more like Mary, right? After all, Jesus himself says that Mary's doing the better thing. But I can't just sit at the feet of Jesus all day; my kids would go hungry, they would wet their pants, laundry would pile up to the ceiling, and the boys would probably tear the house down.
Look at the great things that Martha did. In the passage above, it says that she "welcomed him into her home." That's a wonderful act. When Jesus spoke to her, he did so with kindness and compassion; he loved her immensely even as he chided her. In John 11:5, it says "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Hmmm ... Mary isn't even mentioned by name in this version. In John 11:20, (Lazarus is dead, and there are mourners in the house of Martha and Mary), it says, "Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet him, but Mary stayed at the house." Martha left a houseful of guests and went out to meet Christ so she could be near him as soon as possible. She also has incredible faith: "Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you" (John 11:22) and "Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world" (John 11:27). Mighty powerful words to speak for someone who isn't doing "the good part." Finally, in John 12:2, Jesus visits the town of Bethany a third time, "So they made him a supper there, and Martha was serving." And that's the last we hear of Martha in the Bible.
Let it be clear that I am NOT discounting Mary. I'm sure she was great. She anointed the feet of Jesus with very expensive perfume (John 11:2 and 12:3), was obviously humble, eager to soak up everything Jesus had to say, and she had immense faith. She also may have been the more well-known sister of the two ("Many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he had done, believed in him" John 11:45). Perhaps she was prettier and had a less brusque personality. I don't know.
What I do know is that I'm still far more sympathetic to Martha. I really like her. She's not a perfect lady, but she humbly accepts Jesus's chastisement, she does the dirty work, she's very hospitable, and she works incredibly hard in the background. She's no foreground kind of woman, no dainty lady with a pretty white dress on. She was probably the backbone of her family, dressed in drab gray with a greasy apron on, sweeping dirt off the floor, and shooing a chicken out of the kitchen. (And she's a patron saint of cooks and cooking. Pretty cool since I myself love to cook [and eat]).
While sitting at a table with some friends recently, I said, "I really sympathize with Martha, but I need to be more of a Mary." An older man said, "Why not be both? We need to have balance." I'd never heard anyone say that before. What a novel idea!
Is that it? Are my children the Jesuses in my life? Is the laundry, the cooking, the shopping, the paying bills ... are these the ways that I sit at the feet of Jesus? We are called to serve Christ, every moment of every day. That doesn't mean moving to a foreign mission field and setting up a clinic (not for me anyway). That means living your faith wherever you are, whoever you come into contact with, in everything you do! Does that mean that while I'm being a Martha, I am being a Mary too?
These are not rhetorical questions. Please help me figure this out!
I end with a quote from this article about Martha (which I recommend you read): "Wouldn't it be wonderful if the most important thing that could be said about us is 'They served'?" (John 12:2)