Bottom line: One thing, Martha. One thing.
We’ve all got a lot on our minds this week. For clergy, a zillion services. For travelers, fatigue and worry about making it home. For those hosting Easter dinners: house cleaning, cooking, and trying to keep family from killing each other over politics.
And into this week of frenzy come the women of Holy Week and Easter. What might they have to share with us? After all, they jumped in when no one else would. They spoke when few would listen. They stood with Jesus when his male friends, except for John, had abandoned him.
Into this Holy Week fray first steps Martha of Bethany. I love Martha, for it takes some chops to complain so freely to Jesus. And I dislike it that a bad reputation seems to hover over her like air pollution in Beijing.
Picture this: After the raising of Lazarus, and during the week before the Crucifixion (that would be Holy Week, this week) Jesus is staying with siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany.
Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. But Martha needs help. Well, wouldn’t you? (It’s not like the disciples are falling over themselves to chop vegetables and make sure the wine is chilled.)
“Master,” she says, “don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to help me, NOW!”
Jesus: “Martha, you’re worrying too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. Only one thing is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and it won’t be taken from her.”
Well, sure. I get that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I also see that Jesus wouldn’t have even been there if it weren’t for Martha.
Didn’t he say something about not having a place to lay his head? Martha’s special gift was, after all, hospitality — and God knows we can all use a little (or a lot) of that in this world.
We know that Jesus loved being at the Bethany home, that he loved the sisters and their brother Lazarus. Remember that the only place in the Gospels where Jesus cries is when Lazarus is dead, before he brings him back to life.
I believe he even made a point of seeking out Mary and Martha before he ascended—why else would he have ascended from Bethany?
Picture this in that small house: men standing, sitting and lying down, ready to eat. Men who had been on the road for some time. Men who fished for a living. Men who probably smelled like fish, given the miles they covered on foot.
And there was Mary, the good one, passionately listening to Jesus. No wonder Martha asked for help.
But Mary gets the credit because she was listening to Jesus, giving him an audience, being a soulmate. Yep.
Was Martha supposed to just drop everything and let the 43 hotdishes (I’m from Minnesota; we call everything “hotdishes”) boil over? I don’t think so.
I think it was about balance. Jesus was telling Martha that there didn’t have to be 43 courses for dinner, just one. He was saying that the house didn’t have to be clean in every corner; that the disciples would survive without dessert, and that shoes on the floor meant company and love, rather than chaos.
Maybe he was also saying about something about Martha not adding to chaos, both inwardly and outwardly.
I’m going to be dying, soon, Martha, and unlike almost everyone else except for Thomas, your sister senses that. If you weren’t quite so busy, you might understand it, too. You need to be grounded—for there will be much turmoil and pain in the coming days. But I’m right here with you now. Choose one thing for dinner and set the rest aside so you can truly be with me.
It’s almost as if Jesus was telling Martha to find that one thing that would give her joy and balance, so that she could be grounded, so that she could have some energy in reserve—and so that she would be clear-headed enough to know that Jesus was standing right in front of her, sitting with her at the table, breaking bread.
As you think through multiple church services or plan down to the last detail for family gatherings, what is one thing you might strive for this week? How might that help you keep your balance? How might it help others do the same? How might that be connected to your sense of joy–and that of others? What are some things you might release to help with your sense of peace?
One thing is sufficient, Martha. One thing. One place where you can find some peace, one place that gives all of us strength—for we will need it in the days to come.
Scott Gunn photo.