“Martha, Martha,” Jesus says gently during one of the most heated moments in all of Scripture, to my way of thinking (Luke 10:41). Martha has just exploded in a room full of disciples and her sister Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet as he is teaching. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Yikes! Is Martha really giving orders to God? It seems so.
Before we get too judgmental, I just want to say that I’ve felt the kind of frustration that caused Martha to blow. Haven’t you? And, the truth is, it usually happens at meal time! There’s a fair amount of pressure involved in preparing and serving a meal, especially to a large, hungry crowd. Don’t believe me? Just come on a Wednesday night during the Alpha and Life Connection courses. My friend Lois is responsible for feeding about 150 guests, including the pickiest of eaters – children! Week after week Lois and her team (sometimes not even the same people each week) serve any and all who come to the Fellowship Hall kitchen window. And they do it with a smile!!
What makes this story of Martha so unique for me is two-fold: first, as I’ve mentioned, she had no compunctions about speaking her mind – to the Lord Jesus, no less, in front of a whole bunch of people! That’s certainly authentic and honest! And second, that Jesus responds to her so gently. The double use of her name always means that it is spoken with tenderness. Jesus didn’t scold or lecture her for her outburst. He didn’t stand up, stomp his foot and send her to her room for speaking to him like that. He didn’t rebuke her for putting down her sister. No, to my way of thinking, he empathized. That’s right, empathized, meaning he shared her emotions, thoughts and feelings, projecting himself into her frustration. Why do I think this? Because of my own experiences. His presence in my stressful times has brought my feelings that are spiraling out of control right back into straight, peaceful alignment.
“You are worried and upset about many things…” Jesus says. He’s got a ton of weight on his own shoulders, too, you know? And he understands that sometimes we can’t see that he cares, and we get mad. Or, our circumstances seem to indicate that he doesn’t understand what’s happening inside us. Sometimes we even entertain the idea that he’s powerless to do anything about it. This story of the sisters of Bethany tells me differently.
Martha, in every sense of the word, is a “worker in the vineyard.” She gets the job done, even if she does offend a few people in doing it. Later in scripture we see her serving Jesus again, a sign that this lady’s love language is “acts of service,” and she’s not about to change! But I’m willing to bet that in the end, her theology was just as sound and solid as her sister Mary’s. After all, she, too, had been with Jesus.