Although I’ve read the story of Mary and Martha many times, I’ve never found it to be one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’ve never really asked myself why it bothers me, but I know that it does. However, after recently reading The Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, I am learning to pay more attention to why I feel the way that I do about the Bible and to the way I feel about God himself.
Sorting through my feelings and reactions to the story of Mary and Martha, I asked myself: Why is it that this story seems to rub me the wrong way every time I read it? I quickly realized that it bothers me a bit in the same way that the parable of the prodigal son does. As I read that story, I find myself relating to the older son. I don’t readily want to admit it, but the truth is that I empathize with the older son’s anger. Why should his younger brother, who squandered all of his inheritance be welcomed home with open arms? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t the older brother be shown just a bit more love from the father than the younger son? In the same way, I empathize with Martha in Luke 10. It’s all well and good that Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, but shouldn’t Martha, who is slaving away to make preparations for Jesus, at least be rewarded for her service?
In both cases what I think should happen, what seems “fair” in my human mindset, is not what actually happens in the Bible. In the parable of the prodigal son, the youngest son is found on the road by his father, desperately repentant and eager to be taken back into his home. The father not only takes his son back, but also throws him a giant feast!
In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary, who does not help with the preparations at all and simply sits at the feet of Jesus, is told that she has “chosen what is better” (V. 42). She is rewarded for essentially doing what is, in my mind, close to nothing. Even though both of these reactions seem unfair to me, I also know that the Lord’s ways are higher than mine. Because of this, it is important to examine my own heart toward the story of Mary and Martha and the implications of this story for how I view my life and purpose.
I was raised in a family where I was taught to work hard. I was held accountable for my actions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being raised this way, but I must be careful not to see the framework in which I was parented as the framework that God uses to deal with His people. God is a just God, but he is not limited to a human concept of fairness (which is easily distorted by our own self-righteousness). He calls us to give up our lives for Him, but we don’t always know all the ways that call can manifest itself. Luke 14:26-27 states that we are to take up our crosses and follow the Lord at any cost.
Lately, I am realizing that the sacrifice we are called to make as Christians isn’t necessarily one where we work more hours at our jobs for the good of the Kingdom flourishing. It isn’t necessarily one where we do more hours of community service, or squeeze another Church small group into our busy schedule. The Lord very well could be calling us to these things, but He also might call us to sacrifice something else – our focus on anything but Him.
In the frantically moving, achievement-oriented world we live in, simply spending time in His presence can often go by the wayside. In trying to busy ourselves in the act of giving ourselves and our lives to God, it can be easy to forget that He is the one doing the work through us in the first place. It is my prayer that I would continue to work and serve for His kingdom purpose, but that I, like Mary, would also remember to sit still as His feet in a posture of humility – knowing the He is the only source of anything good in me.
Kate Moody is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.