As Jesus and the disciples were entering Bethany, a longtime friend, Martha, saw Jesus and spontaneously invited him and his disciples to her home for dinner. Once at the house, Martha’s sister, Mary, came down from the roof, where she was sewing, to see what the commotion was about. Seeing that it was Jesus, whom she’d not seen for such a long time, she forgot about her project, and, in required hostess fashion, gave all her attention to Jesus. Several of the disciples were sitting nearby, ready to listen, too. Others took advantage of the coolness of the courtyard to take a nap under the shade of a big-leafed tree.
A writer once made this revealing statement: ‘Every front-sided strength has a back-sided weakness.’ I’ve come to understand this more and more over the many years since, that our admiration/envy? for someone’s strengths can obscure their less admirable traits. I think this is why we are so shocked when one of our heroes/idols melts down in a messy scandal of one sort or another. Biblical characters, too, can take on larger than life status in our eyes, making it difficult to see them as anything but stellar in all they do. Take the story of Mary, Martha’s sister, who is revered while Martha so often gets reviled (Jesus did neither, by the way). The visit could have gone something like this imagined scenario:
Mary was thrilled at this sweet, if unanticipated, intrusion to her day. She tried to give her fullest attention to every word Jesus was speaking, but it was a challenge, because there was Martha, completely ignoring her guest, bustling back and forth, cleaning up here, straightening things there, happily humming along to some tune! Mary hoped Jesus wasn’t too upset with the flurry of activity going on around him (back to Jesus). Soon, there was the very distracting aroma of bread baking! Mary shifted uncomfortably, keeping a thin smile on her face to hide her annoyance. Next, Martha came in and commissioned two of the listening disciples for an errand to a friend’s house to buy a fresh honeycomb for their evening meal. (back to Jesus) Now, the sound of nuts being cracked! Seriously? Now? (Oh well, back to Jesus. What was he saying now about the abundant love of the Father?). Wait! Was that lamb being cooked? When had Martha gotten a lamb? Did she start the fire and prepare the pit herself? When? How? (Concentrate, Mary – back to Jesus). And now, the final straw, the clunking of and sloshing of cups and bowls being re-washed in preparation for a special meal!
Mary, exploding, sitting up on her knees, eyes blazing, cutting Jesus off mid-sentence: “Jesus! I’m so embarrassed! Martha is ignoring you and making all this noise while you are here visiting with us! Tell her to stop being so rude and come sit here and listen!”
Jesus, smiling tenderly, said: “Mary, sweet Mary.” (looking toward the kitchen now) “Martha is in serving glory, making sure that everything is perfect and in place for this evening. Her gift of loving service has been warming my heart as I’ve watched her all afternoon. And smelling the fruit of her labors is a foretaste of the delicious meal and precious fellowship to come. Watching her plan and organize and double-check every detail brings her such immense joy, and I will not deprive her of it. And you both know how much I love the taste of fresh honey!”
(now, looking into Mary’s eyes) “It is best that you are the one sitting here with me, because your heart needed encouragement, refreshment. You’ve let yourself be burdened with things not of your concern and this is a chosen time of listening for you, just as this is the chosen time of service for Martha. Do you understand, my dear Mary?”
(tears glistening on eyelids) “I think I do. I’m sorry I got distracted and judged Martha when, all this time, she was honoring you with her gift. And at the same time, I’ve been dishonoring you by not being attentive to all I needed to hear. Please forgive me.”
(Jesus, smiling broadly at his repentant friend); “You are forgiven. Of course, you are forgiven. Now, (winking conspiratorially) where were we?” PD