Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mary and Martha

Photo by Rob Shenk on Flickr

"Expectations are resentments under construction."
~ Anne Lamott

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)
At the Home of Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This passage has been on my mind for the last several days. Now, no one could ever accuse me of being a Martha. As I wrote in this post, acts of service are definitely not my native love language. Yet, every time I've heard this passage in a sermon, I feel a bit resentful. It seems to always be a slap in the face to Martha.

You have a spontaneous visit of at least 13 men (possibly more), and anyone who has ever entertained knows that there is a huge amount of work to be done. It seems reasonable that Martha would want a little help.

Yet, most often when I've heard this used, the message is to add another shackle to women. There is usually a pretty little generalization about priorities and how we shouldn't lose sight of time with God. Which is true and nice and all that. The problem is, in real life it translates to one more obligation. On top of all your other responsibilities, make sure you are fulfilling this one, too. And to add insult to injury, it sometimes is taken to mean that all of the things to be done around the house, stereotypical "women's work", really do not have any value. I do not believe that this is what Jesus meant, at all.

I think that God has placed in all of us the desire to makes things beautiful. For many, that comes out in the effort and attention they put into entertaining, preparing meals and hospitality. Rather than shaming Martha for that, I believe God values it.(Hebrews 13:2)

I believe that the real message here is about freedom. I think that Martha was suffocating under expectations for herself and Mary, and perhaps women in general. I think she was frustrated by all the "shoulds" she had acquired, and that Jesus' response was an invitation to freedom. Not "here is one more thing that you haven't managed to do yet", but a release.

"Step out from the constriction of your perceived role. Follow your heart. You don't have to do all that if it isn't bringing you joy. Don't box yourself in according to other people's expectations. Mary was true to the desire of her heart, despite what other people might think. It is OK for you to do that, too. You don't need to control her or others. I didn't come to burden you further. I came so that you could be free."

I don't believe there was any reproach in His voice. Just love and a desire to encourage. It is easy to get trapped into feelings of obligation. What a joy-sucker that is! It transforms even pleasant activities into drudgery. At times, we get so caught up in expectations (our own or others') that we fail to see alternatives. Maybe it doesn't have to be done. Maybe there are other ways to do it. Maybe there are reasons to do it that can make us glad. Maybe it can be set aside while we pursue the dreams inside our hearts. Let go of fear and seek joy!

"Yeah, right," you say. "I have to clean the house and I can't even get the kids to pick up their rooms. I need something that can apply to my daily life!" I get it, really. But believe it or not, I still think that the above words can apply here. Even here.  Nonviolent communication has been very helpful to me to see things from a perspective that can bring acceptance. Blessings, joy and peace to you.

1 comment:

Maria said...

I really enjoy the positive ways in which you look at the teachings of the Bible. It really encourages me. :)