The other day I saw a book entitled Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. Ah, yes, Mary and Martha of Bethany. Martha gets the bad rap again. Mary, the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, wins again.

Martha has been the object of condescension throughout the years for not taking the time to reflect, for doing busywork and not listening. Jesus himself praised Mary for “choosing the better part,” when Martha complained that her sister was not helping in the kitchen.

But would Jesus have enjoyed coming to the little Bethany home had Martha not tended so carefully to the needs of her guests? No doubt Martha’s food was plentiful and tasty, seasoned with fresh herbs. Linens were clean and fresh. Guests settled back for laughter and a relaxing good time.

Jesus wanted Martha to listen more, to see the big picture, to meditate on his word, the most important thing. Of course that makes sense. But maybe that word wouldn’t have been so available had not Jesus felt at peace and nourished in that little house. Maybe his insights came because Martha had seen to it that he had a clean and undisturbed place to sleep, and a good meal in his stomach.

Legend has it that Martha went on to become a missionary after the resurrection, and traveled as far as what is now France, taming dragons with holy water in her quest to spread the word about Jesus. No one in the New Testament is better suited for such a mission, given Martha’s single-mindedness, strength, and absolute conviction of faith after witnessing Jesus raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

Back in Bethany, maybe the disciples could have pitched in a little more.

Reprinted with permission from Praying Day By Day, A Year of Meditations, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2009.