Martha, are you the only one who really cares about what’s on the menu for dinner? It’s possible…
This is the sixth in a series of twelve reflections on the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10.38-42. If you’d like to read the whole series, start with the first post , where they are listed in full at the end of the piece.
As always, let’s begin with the text:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10.38-42 (NRSV)
The crumbs aren’t going away yet.
Does anyone care?
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” There is so much in that question: the pain of overwork, a sense of bearing the burden alone, the grief over the way others do not feel the urgency of the tasks. Martha’s assumption is that her priorities are the right ones, and her indignation comes from the exasperated realization that no one else cares quite as much as she does.
This is a place of struggle for me. I’m the one in the house who experiences distress over crumbs on the floor and toys scattered in living areas. Little Barbie shoes. Stray socks. Stacks of incoming mail. Deflated balloons. The rest of my family knows that living in a state of disorder is not ideal, and they will participate in the clean-up process when asked, but none of them seem to experience the same visceral discomfort over a cluttered living space that I do. “Do you not care?”
The fact is, they don’t really care — and that has to be okay. I marvel at the gift my dear husband — who is quite orderly — has in being able to sit and read while the chaos of blanket-forts rage around him. The children can zero in on one corner with one elaborate toy, playing happily while disregarding the piles around them.
I am not this way. I used to be this way, as a child and young adult. My room looked perpetually as if a tornado had just blown through, and our home would never have passed the white glove test. But it seems that becoming a mother has unleashed in me a constant demand for order. The dishes must be done by the end of the night. The laundry really should be folded. Has the table been set yet? Remember to feed the cats. Make sure that everyone has a water bottle near them for the night. And while we’re at it, let’s get another load of whites in the wash before going to bed.
This compulsion is useful, frankly. It helps our household run more smoothly. But there are times when I need to release it. I am getting better at this. Taking a weekly Sabbath is helping me, especially when I take an hour to read even though the dust bunnies are thriving in the corner — no matter, cleaning day is coming up and now is the time to sit. There are times when it is best to cuddle with the children without straightening the piles. There are moments when it is better to listen carefully to Jon’s reflections on his reading than to sweep the floor. There are times when I need to pray instead of working. Now is the time to be with Jesus.
Martha and I struggle in this together. The work is good, and life feels a little bit better when it is done. But the trick is knowing the right time.
Where am I saying “Does anyone care?”
What, in this situation, does Jesus care about?
Is this the right time for a task? Or is now a better time to focus on a person?