It certainly wasn't the response Martha hoped to get from Jesus, but it was the most loving one imaginable.
told by Deborah
As they continued on their way, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet, listening to his teachings.
But Martha was exhausted with all her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, dear Martha, you are worried and weighed down by so many things; yet only one things is essential — and that is what Mary has chosen, which will never be taken from her.”
It reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son, this supremely plausible story of two sisters squabbling over housework. As with the Prodigal, we again meet siblings with very different personalities making very different sorts of choices, and again we find ourselves drawn in, taking sides, and then surprised by the outcome.
How can it be that the responsible one, the determined, mover-and-shaker, can-do doer doesn’t receive encouragement and the needed assistance for her work? Instead of denouncing Mary’s idleness, Jesus praises it, while Martha is counseled and cautioned: Chill, girlfriend.
You can almost hear the screech of brakes as she skids to a stop, her eyes widening in surprise and perhaps rimmed with sudden tears. It’s certainly not the response Martha expected when she complained to Jesus. Didn’t he realize all that she was doing for him?
Hadn’t he heard the rattle of dishware, the clatter of her sandals as she hurried back and forth across the tile floor? Didn’t he notice the clean linens and soft pillows she had provided, the smell of the delicious soup she had painstakingly prepared? Didn’t he see the exhaustion in her face, or hear the weariness in her voice? Considering all that she had accomplished, surely she deserved some help — and some praise, as well.
It had to hurt, even though Jesus’ warning was lovingly issued. Martha believed that she was doing the right thing, and thought that her sister should do the same: get off your fanny and get some work done; that’s how you serve the Lord.
Well, isn’t it? Isn’t Martha’s way the one we follow? Don’t most of us Christians interpret our faith as affirmed by our actions? Why else are we involved in countless commitments and campaigns, classes and clubs and camps, retreats and rallies, trainings and bus trips — if not “in the name of the Lord”?
Despite the fact that we grow tired in our ceaseless laboring on projects and programs, there is always one more Worthwhile Cause or Desperate Problem we feel the need to address. Although Jesus told his apostles about an abundant harvest with so much work to do, and so few workers to do it — he didn’t say that it would be like raking leaves in a windstorm!
Yet we continue, faithfully rushing from task to task, wearing ourselves out, stretching and straining to accomplish more and more. And, like Martha, we cry out, “Lord, don’t you see what we’re doing here; knocking ourselves out for You? We need some help!”
We could stand a little praise, too, while You’re at it….
But, surprisingly — shockingly — Jesus isn’t impressed by deeds and doings. He doesn’t cheer Martha on, or urge that old lazy-bones, idle Mary to help her sister with her many tasks. Instead, he gently, compassionately, calls the weary worker by name:
Oh Martha, dear Martha, you’re running yourself ragged with all of your work and worries. Don’t you understand that what truly matters is hearing and holding onto My teachings?
With these words Jesus speaks to all of the tireless (exhausted), passionate, committed souls: Chill, friends.
Stop. Take a deep breath, and now another. Cease running and rushing, fretting and fidgeting and freaking out. Stop. Just for a few moments, be still, and sit yourself down at the feet of the Lord. Take a deep breath, be still, and listen.
Just for a moment, be here. Rest. There is nothing you need to do.
Be still and simply listen to the silence. Don’t be afraid: it is gentle, its intention is kindly; it will not hurt you, it can only bring peace.
You are the one the Lord Christ called; you are the one He is concerned for: you are precious in His sight. He knows the weariness of your soul, and the cares that trouble your thoughts and hurt your heart. And He gives His blessed, healing love to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
~ John 14:27
There is nothing that you need to do. You cannot earn God’s love — it’s already here, abundantly! — you can only celebrate it and share it.
We are not called to build the kingdom of God singlehandedly. It is ongoing, requiring the souls and spirits of all people: a universal assent to divine graciousness and love. It is not, nor is it meant to be, a Personal Achievement; to believe otherwise is to succumb to a grandiose notion: a genuine Messiah Complex.
Our anxious efforts to fix everything that we believe is lacking or amiss in our world is pure foolishness, as well as a danger to our souls; and our fierce, impassioned announcements and incessant complaints are evidence of that fact. Like Martha, we’re unhappy, tired, and looking to drag others into our cycle of sincere, sanctified misery.
And Jesus sees clearly what is going on, and responds with compassion and love. He was well aware of the burden of work and worry that Martha had taken on, and recognized the suffering that accompanied it, as well as the demands that drove it. He understood, too, that the remedy was not more staff, or more effort, but more faith. Something was seriously wrong.
My dear, dear friend, put down the crushing weight you are carrying: I carried the Cross so you don’t have to; I was crucified in your stead. I will take your pain, if you let Me, I will heal your heart if you open it to My teachings. What matters is not what you do, but the depth of your love for God. Come and sit by Me.
Why are we doing what we’re doing — other than running headlong into another “noble cause”? If we hope to live fully, to find joy, to genuinely follow the Lord, we must stop and think, and rest and reflect. Discernment is essential to a wise and well-lived faith, and can only come when we sit at Jesus’ feet, and prayerfully consider what we are called to be and do.
Sometimes the most important part gets left out. Sometimes we forget to be still, to pray, to bless and rejoice in creation and, especially, to bask in God’s tender, unfailing love for us.
Are our tasks undertaken freely, consciously, as an act of love? Does the work bring joy or burden the soul? Will the outcome bless and heal, or bring hurt or harm? Is it done in the spirit of compassion, or does another impulse or desire drive the work?
Is lovingkindness foremost in all that we hope for, pray for, and strive after?
And, lastly, does the ssssoft and sssseductive voice of self-regard (ego) tempt us to forget what Ultimately Matters? Do we gripe and complain in order to draw attention to ourselves, seeking sympathy, admiration, and praise? Are we so certain of our righteousness that we ignore the teachings of Jesus and stubbornly go our own way? Or perhaps we’ve become ensnared by our many tasks, so obsessed with “accomplishments” that nothing — and no One — else matters. The danger is real.
All of the energy and effort in the world cannot convince God nor anyone else of our sincerity or sanctity. Our faith is revealed in the condition of our heart: when our lives are alight with love and delight.
A merry heart is like a healing medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.
~ Proverbs 17:22
When we are cranky and cross, driven and desperate, we’ve lost the thread. The purpose of our work should be love of God alone; anything more — or anything less! — breaks the spirit and erodes the soul.
It is not how much we do that matters, but how we live.
May the Spirit of grace and wisdom inspire us to live with true Christ-like love every day,
Imagine (realize) that you are already standing in the light of Christ’s perfect love. Breathe in that light, take in that light, live in that light every day — in all that you say and do, all that you believe in, and pray for. Rejoice!