As you might infer from this little sign I have in my house, I’ve never felt the slightest kinship to Martha in Luke’s Gospel reading from this past Sunday (Luke 10:38-42). Nope, that clearly isn’t me. I can easily ignore dishes piling up on the counter and crumbs on the floor without feeling the least bit guilty. Those thoughtful invitations to the latest-and-greatest household cleaning product parties don’t get a second glance from me because cleaning just isn’t a priority. I can always find better things to do.
In an earlier generation, how well women kept house was tied so closely to their self-worth that I’ve even seen it mentioned in their obituaries, no kidding. Me? It’s a good thing housekeeping isn’t one of the criteria I use to judge myself. I have enough other ammunition, I guess.
To be perfectly honest, Mary and Martha is one of those Bible stories that I had almost quit paying attention to because I was so sure I already knew what it was all about. When you reach that point of arrogance, you’re pretty much asking God to give you an attitude adjustment. At least that’s how it works with me.
This time around, instead of sitting there with Mary and laughing while Martha runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, I see Martha in a different way. I feel sorry for her now, because all the time she’s desperately trying to prepare, she is missing out. Behind the façade of playing the good hostess, I think Martha is afraid. She is afraid of being judged by her actions, or more precisely, by what she hasn’t done. Martha does not trust Jesus. Mary does and Martha can’t stand it. Getting something for nothing isn’t the way Martha’s mind works. Jealous of the easy relationship that Mary has with Jesus, Martha tries to derail it. Mary simply receives Jesus.
Maybe this story isn’t about doing as much as it is about trusting. Last week, we heard the lawyer ask Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus knows the way this guy thinks and gives answers that speak to him on his own terms, “…do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28b) and later, “Go and do likewise”(Luke 10:37b).
If we choose to be judged and to judge others by what we do, we will be like Martha, living in fear and frustration, forever trying to prepare and never quite ready. We will always be putting something in the way of our relationship with Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, is simply present in the moment.
A former pastor advised me to “let go and let God” more than once, which proved counterproductive because it would invariably aggravate me all the more. I wondered later why that phrase would generate such a strong response in me, but I think Luke’s story has shown me something I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe I’m not a clean freak, but I can still put on a pretty good Martha. Sure, I may love to talk grace, but I have plenty of difficulty receiving it without trying to prove to myself I am worthy in a dozen other ways.
When we pray as Jesus teaches in the next chapter of Luke, “Give us each day our daily bread,” we know from Luther’s Small Catechism that “God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people … ” So, why bother to ask? I think it’s because every day is a struggle for us to trust God. This is less a petition and more a statement of trust.
And it goes far beyond having something to munch on. In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the bread of life. A devotional book I received from my synod is titled “Bread for the Day.” “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her”(Luke 10:42). Mary didn’t cook, bake, dust or wash a blessed thing. Mary simply received her bread.
Please and thank you, Lord.