Isn’t strange that for all my efforts to be more like Mary, I am still just like Martha? The story of Martha and Mary is found in Luke 10:38-42 and recounts Martha’s protest to Jesus that Mary is sitting listening to him when there was work to be done to prepare a large meal for their guests. Jesus does not chide Mary as Martha requests; instead he tells Martha that it is Mary who has made the better decision.
Here is a bit of background on the family. John 11:5 lists the three single siblings as Martha, Mary and Lazarus quite possibly suggesting their birth order. Martha as the eldest of the three who live together in Bethany, most likely their deceased parent’s home, is very much in charge of the household. She is a bit more aggressive than the other two in her speech both this time and later when Lazarus dies. Lazarus is their brother and a follower of Jesus who eventually becomes sick and dies. Four days later, Jesus raises him from the dead and Lazarus becomes a great witness for Jesus as many more believe in him. Mary is the younger sister who quietly sits at Jesus’ feet and later anoints His feet with very expensive perfume (nearly a year’s wages) just before being captured. It is unclear from Scripture whether or not this Mary is also Mary Magdalene whom Jesus cast out seven demons and is found weeping at the cross and later is one of the first to see the risen Lord but that detail is not significant for now.
So it is Martha who begins to prepare a meal for Jesus and most likely at least twelve of his disciples. She knows that Lazarus will be sitting and listening to Jesus as a follower but does not expect Mary to be doing the same. It was not customary for a woman to sit at a teacher’s feet and listen; instead it was customary for her to be serving the guests. Yet, isn’t it interesting that Jesus in Matthew 26:13 says that Mary’s actions of anointing His feet are the ones that will be remembered and discussed not Martha’s actions for preparing the meal?
Where does that leave us? We are left with the reality that busyness (call it meal preparing or service) is not what is remembered rather it is the sacrifice of all we have and are that is remembered and discussed. Too often we are caught up in the notion that it is what we do that matters when it is really what we are willing to give up that matters most. What are you willing to sacrifice for Christ? Are you willing to let go of a dream, a prized possession, a relationship, or your own selfish desires to live more fully in submission at His feet? For that dream, thing, or desire can quickly become a bearer between us and God as it transforms into an idol just like Aaron and the golden calf.
Examine your life in the quiet stillness of God allowing Him to speak to your heart and reveal the many ways busyness is a hiding place from listening to His voice. When I examine my heart, I realize that hiding in busyness is safer because it does not cost me anything and on the surface it looks like I’m living for God but in reality I’ve created an idol to worship instead. Once you have identified the idol, remove it. Purge yourself from it though confession.
I have a prized possession of an upright piano that my mother gave me twenty years ago. It has been moved more times than I can count and I have treated it well but I have not played it. Every time I look at it, it serves as a reminder of the talent that I did not use but rather let get away from me. In some way it has become a reminder to use my talents but it has also become a bearer, an idol, and an ongoing reminder of my failure to fulfill a promise to return to something that provides me joy. Instead, I have only deprived myself of the joy it offers claiming that I don’t have enough time to practice. So if I am real with myself, the reason I resemble Martha is because I don’t believe I deserve to be Mary and I’m scared of the sacrifice that might be required if I became her. That is the real reason I hid in busyness.