Many of us empathize with Martha who felt dumped upon when Jesus and 12 disciples visited her home at mealtime, and her sister, Mary, did nothing to help. From Martha’s perspective, Mary seemed to ignore the obvious and chose to allow Martha to shoulder the responsibility of all the preparations, so that she could sit to hear what Jesus had to say. Certainly Martha wanted to do that as well, but then no one would have anything to eat or drink. It just wasn’t fair – it was simply too much work for one person!
Martha found herself trying to balance what needed to be done with what she wanted to do. Having a sense of responsibility made it much harder, as the needs seem to scream for attention. So, her approach was to service the need, sacrificially doing what no one else would – very altruistic. So why, when Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her did He proclaim Mary’s idleness to be the better choice??
Those of us who are familiar with this story, know that Jesus’ presence in their home reordered the priorities. Jesus tried to tell Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Martha’s talent for welcoming and serving the needs of her guests actually got in the way of her understanding what would most honor Jesus. In her distraction with preparations, she basically forgot that Jesus was the same person that fed 5000 men plus women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t need her help. Instead, He wanted her time and attention.
Had Martha chosen to focus on Jesus and His words, she would have had the balance she needed to effectively use her gift of hospitality. But being worried and upset, while desperately trying to work a plan, mitigated against hearing the voice of God. This is an important truth for us as well: Truly listening requires 100% of our attention. If Martha couldn’t focus on Jesus’ words even though He was physically present, how much harder is it for us to hear the “still, small voice” of Holy Spirit when we’re so busy getting things accomplished? The similar irony is that our activities might be motivated by the best intentions to bless others. But if we’ve substituted doing for being still to listen, we have our priorities backwards, and that carries consequences. In the end, we miss the blessing that simple obedience brings. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
Realistically speaking, the busyness of any given day can become such a distraction that it overtakes our time with Jesus, usually without us realizing it. That’s when a flashing red warning light would be very helpful. Unfortunately, the signs are far more subtle. But, the distinctive difficulty of our labor is one of them. The Lord will not do for us what we insist upon doing ourselves. But in the same loving way Jesus spoke to Martha, void of condemnation, He will let us know we’re off base. Still, we have to be listening in order to hear. Actually having Jesus in the house should make a difference. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)