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Martha, You Don’t Have to Be Mary
Earlier this year a paperwhite flower perched on my windowsill began to bloom. Small and green, it forced its way out into the sunlight. I had been busy planning a May wedding, and this flower embodied the promise of winter turning into spring—a gift freely offered to all of us completely apart from our own efforts.
In the slow moments between checklists and caterers and chair rentals, I have often pondered Jesus’ words from Luke’s gospel and his friendship with Martha. This story is familiar, but now I hear it in a new way.
Martha and her sister, Mary, are at their home with Jesus along with a houseful of guests. Jesus had been traveling and ministering away from home. He and his friends must have been glad to see each other after a time apart. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet with the disciples. Martha works in the kitchen, protesting that her sister should come in and help with the preparations. Jesus’ reply kept tumbling around in my head: “Martha . . . only one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42, NASB).
Martha’s complaint often gets retold as a moralistic caution for us to not be too busy with work, but I think their conversation is more complex. Martha’s generosity was very important to Jesus’ ministry. The travelers were weary, without money for a meal or hotel. Martha’s provisions met Jesus’ needs. I think he was grateful for her contributions. He also loved her very much. In his questions, he shows that he doesn’t just love her for her service to him, but he loves her for who she is. His love is the one necessary thing.
Jesus doesn’t seem concerned with serving the guests or Martha’s sister, or with anyone’s cultural expectations. He ...1