Martha is mad that Mary isn’t doing anything. Martha wants credit, thanks, encouragement, and help. She blames Mary for being idle. She blames Jesus for letting Mary be idle. We know Jesus rebukes Martha and praises Mary. We know Jesus said Mary has chosen the better portion. We pretend to believe. But in reality, we spend our lives acting out Martha. Not just that, we think to ourselves that Jesus must be wrong. If everyone sat around doing nothing like Mary, then nothing would get done. We fail to realize that Jesus wasn’t talking about how we spend the entirety of our time, but rather emphasizing the two possible foci for our work. Mary and Martha represent two roads you can take in regards to your work. And Jesus is very clear in other places about where these roads end up.
The Road of Martha – Martha’s road is focused on work, but not just work, work done for the master. She wants to please Jesus. She wants to bless Jesus. She wants to impress Jesus. And she is mad that while she is slaving away in a hot and hectic kitchen, her sister is sitting doe-eyed at the feet of Jesus. Doesn’t she know I could use an extra pair of hands. Didn’t she see how many people besides Jesus came into the house. Doesn’t she realize how hard I am working? But Martha doesn’t call out to Mary. Her biggest frustration is that Jesus seems pleased with Mary. Doesn’t Jesus realize how hard she is working. So Martha asks Jesus to rebuke Mary for her. She does it to draw attention to herself, to show all that she is and has been doing for Jesus. Sure, she wants help. But more than that, she wants attention, credit. She wants to be acknowledged, celebrated, patted on the back. But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus responds by saying it is Mary not Martha who is doing the only truly necessary thing.
One wonders how Martha responded. Did she huff and bluster and go back in the kitchen? Did she make passive aggressive comments throughout dinner? Did she stop working and sit in the corner to show the consequences when everyone just sits around? Or did she hear that Jesus wasn’t questioning WHAT she was doing…He was questioning WHY? and HOW? I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus revealed what happens to people like Martha who never manage to get off this road. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt:7:21-23)
Some of the people who get turned away from the gates of heaven will have long resumes and successful careers full of “kingdom work.” They stand at the gate of heaven, like Martha on the threshold of her kitchen, and shove their accomplishments at Jesus hoping to impress him with what they have done. They are completely focused on themselves and what they were able to do. They want Jesus to see the little kingdoms they built. They did it all by themselves. They did it for him. Isn’t he glad? Isn’t he impressed? And Jesus replies in astonished bewilderment “Who are you?” This is Martha’s Road. If Martha doesn’t get off this road, this is where it ends. She needs to start down the path of her sister Mary.
Mary’s Road – It’s easy to look at Mary sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus and think that Jesus is off base when he tells us to emulate her and not her sister. Surely we need to get to work. Surely our churches need more worker bee Martha’s not more pew-potato Mary’s. But such an attitude reveals a double mistake on our part. First, it reveals what a low value we place on teaching and learning. We see her sitting still and don’t think she is DOING anything. Second, it reveals that we think Jesus is disclosing Mary’s finish line rather than her starting gate. This is Mary’s Path, and it starts at the feet of Jesus. She will go on to DO things as well. But her ability, energy, attitude, and drive will all have their roots in her connection to the master.
Jesus talked about where this path goes too. In John 15, Jesus says this:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; … My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:5-11)”
The path of Mary is a path of fruit and love and joy…and it starts by plugging in to the vine. It’s simple. Stay connected to and be nourished by the vine and you will bear fruit, and experience love and joy. Disconnect from the vine, and you will dry up, wither, and die.
This is what Jesus is trying to tell Martha, not that her work is unimportant. But rather, that her work is growing from the wrong soil. She isn’t plugged into the vine and her branch is starting to wither and die. Her work is too much for her. She is exhausted by the load and demoralized by the lack of acknowledgement. Her cry out to Jesus reveals as much. Jesus tells her what she needs isn’t more hands in the kitchen. What she needs is to start her work by sitting at the master’s feet.
Too many times, we work tirelessly to no avail, wondering why we never succeed, or why no one ever notices, or why we never feel joy? We try seminars and solutions. We consult counselors, and mentors, and blogs. We switch jobs. We try harder. When in reality, the problem is that we are on the Martha Road. We are trying to run on our own gas. And all it is producing in us is exhaustion, bitterness, and depression.
What we need is to find the Path of Mary, the one that starts by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Learning from him. Learning who he is, what he is up to, who we are in his eyes, and what he desires us to do. Who knows were the path leads from there? But I do know that a path does lead from there. Eph 2:10 says: “You are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he laid out in front of you to walk in.” Heb 12:2 tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us…” There is race for each of us to run. There is a path for each of us to walk in. And it is full of joy, and peace, and fulfillment, and fruit. It’s the path of Mary, and it starts by sitting at the feet of Jesus.