Talk to Each Other — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 5

Martha and Mary, don’t you think you might need to sit down and hash a few things out?

This is the fifth 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)

Ready to set the table.

The table isn’t set yet. Just sayin’.

Talk to each other.

Martha complains to Jesus about Mary in her question: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” Why does Martha go to Jesus with this initially? Why doesn’t she talk directly to Mary? Wouldn’t that have been the mature thing to do?

In our house, we’re constantly talking with our children about the skill of communicating with each other about grievances before seeking outside intervention. I often say to the girls, “I do not call Grammie and Grandpa to complain that Daddy hasn’t taken out the trash. Instead, I ask him nicely to do it.”

As a child, I never really understood the prohibition against being a “tattle-tale” or “telling” on your classmates if they were doing something wrong. Aren’t we all supposed to follow the rules? What is a small person supposed to do if they experience (either personally or in observation) someone disregarding those rules?

Today, as a parent, I believe that the distinction between “asking for help” and “tattling” was not clearly presented to me as a child on the playground (or maybe I just didn’t catch on). In our home, we view “tattling” as the practice of merely trying to get someone in trouble, whereas “asking for help” is what happens after you have earnestly tried to resolve a conflict with your sister — but to no avail. We’re trying to train our kids to ask for help like this: “Mama, I’m having a problem and I need help finding a solution.” So much more pleasant than “Lucy won’t let me play with the doll!”

Had Martha just not developed this skill of talking with her sister quite yet? Or perhaps, in her heart of hearts, did she want Jesus’s attention on the issue even more than the help in the kitchen? Did she secretly want to shame Mary a little? Or did she secretly want to shame Jesus for allowing her sister to sit with him instead of work with the women? Why publicly call Mary out on this instead of pulling her aside and asking for help first? Or is it possible that this is a repeated infraction that Martha and Mary have already discussed in the past?

We can’t know all of Martha’s heart in this moment, but we can examine our own hearts.

Is there someone I need to talk with about a conflict?
Have I been complaining about someone behind their backs? Is it time to talk with them directly?
What do I gain when I divert my attention from the place of conflict and move it over to talking with other people? Sympathy? Attention? A sense of superiority?
Do I complain to Jesus about people? (That’s okay, he can handle it.)
Is there an area in which I need to say to Jesus, “I’m having a problem and I need help finding a solution”?

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