Lets look at this picture first. Here is Jesus, come to Martha and Marys place to share a meal with his friends. By the looks of it he has brought more than his twelve disciples. The house is full of people. Martha is preparing some of her most delicious dishes. And Mary..... Where is Mary? She is sitting at Jesus feet as if there isnt a meal that desperately needs preparing!
When she has a moment between the frying of the chicken and the whisking of the egg whites, Martha comes and asks Jesus if he cant get her sister to come and give her a hand. Surely, Mary can be expected to put some effort in as well, cant she?
To her surprise she is not getting the support she expects. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part" he says.
Poor Martha! The more I thought about her the more irritated I became. Someone needs to do the work after all. Do the shopping, prepare the food, load the dishwasher. Surely, Jesus, do you even know what organising a lunch for twelve plus people involves? Do you know how much preparation it takes before everybody can sit down and dig into some nice food? Probably not!
And perhaps we shouldnt blame him. Jesus was, after all, a man. A man who could perhaps cook some fish on a barbecue, break large quantities of bread, but who may not have been too familiar with the inner workings of preparing a feast for a large number of guests.
May not have realised what pressure Martha is under and why. May not have realised how absolutely essential Marthas contribution to the feast is for Jesus and his friends to hold body and soul together.
No Jesus, Marys piety may be important, but Marthas busyness is as important, if not more important. In the end someone has to get the work done and sitting and talking wont put the bread on the table.
So, here is another picture of Martha. And of Jesus and Mary. (See them in the back there?) I really relate to this Martha. I love the big spread she is busy preparing. Looking at this picture I can feel my hands start itching and my heart opening. I cant wait to get in there and help her. Isnt it wonderful to have so much to work with? So much that can make Jesus and his friends feel really welcome?
If only Mary wasnt sitting there in the background. Doing nothing! Relaxed, wrapped, focussed, lost in an intimate exchange with Jesus. I onder what they are talking about?
Suddenly Martha loses all her pleasure, satisfaction and pride in what she is doing. She starts to feel shut out, cut off, angry, irritated, resentment rising in the pit of her stomach. "Why do I have to do all the work?" she wonders, "why does Mary get all the attention, while I do all the work?" Why is she so intimate with Jesus, while I am the one who is putting all my energy into pleasing him and his friends?"
See that look on Marthas face? The anger, the resentment, the darkness emanating from her body? Do you recognise it? That feeling that you are doing it all on your own and are not being appreciated? Losing out into the bargain?
And what about Mary and her state of mind? Under the spell of Jesus she forgets everything around her, drinks in his words, opens her mind and soul. The intimacy of the encounter with him pulses through her. Do you recognise where she finds herself? The utter rapture of the divine, touching her innermost being?
In this drawing of Rembrandts, we see Mary and Martha in their kitchen. With Mary on one side of Jesus and Martha on the other. Mary with a book and Martha with a frying pan busy preparing the meal. Jesus dividing his attention between them.
Is that perhaps how we can resolve the tension of this passage? To say that what is wrong with Martha is not what she does, but the attitude with which she does it. To say that it is perfectly alright to be a Martha, or a Mary for that matter, as long as it doesnt lead to bitterness, anger, and jealousy. As long as it doesnt cut one off from the intimacy and relationship Jesus offers. Is that how it is? That as long as Martha manages to keep some room to relate to Jesus and doesnt lose her temper, all is well.
For most of us that would be good news wouldnt it? Because both as a society, as a Church community and as individual people, we tend to be like Marthas. Judged and judging by what gets done, how much gets accomplished and what there is to show at the end of a days hard work.
Many of us are afraid of Mary, she irritates us. Sitting in a corner and doing nothing. What can be the purpose of that? What does it do? Whats the gain? How will it contribute? For most of us its much easier to be Martha. To put our energy into doing something, into an activity, into business, into things that we can add to our list of highly valued accomplishments.
Unfortunately, Jesus is very clear in what he says. Mary chose the better part. Martha you need to stop. You need to turn around and sit down and take some time. You need to listen. You need to open yourself. You need to let go of all those things that you think need to be done. Its time to let someone else have a go for a change. Sit down, open your mind, open your heart, and listen to the deep whisperings of divine wisdom and love.
Connect with your inner Mary and allow her room to move within you, so she can show you where true peace is found and where the soul gets nurtured with heavenly food.
Ask yourself, Martha,what is happening when you start to rankle. What is happening when you feel you need to call Jesus in as arbiter and judge?
What is it that has taken centre stage? What is it that has been pushed to the back of your mind? Who are you seeking to serve, Martha? God has invited you into a relationship, to experience intimacy and love, peace and healing. He needs to be somewhere centre stage for that. Not in the back corner of your mind, only to be wheeled out at a time when you have nothing else left to do, but as the axis around which your whole being revolves. As the backbone of your existence.
Mary chose the best part. Not because we shouldnt be involved in diakonia, in service, but because in the end, when all is said and done, it is not the service, the activity, the accomplishments, all that we do that will bring us closer to God. It is not the doing that will make us whole. It is the love and attention, the care and nurture, the relationship with that mysterious, mystical power that seeks to enter our souls with the riches it has to offer. With a love stronger than death, and a passion as fierce as the grave.