Today’s post is from Sarah Condon’s book Churchy: The Real Life Adventures of a Wife, Mom & Priest…
Selected portions from the chapter titled, “Martha Was The Worst” -
People do not want to chastise the lady who is just trying to get the dishes done. I get that. The last thing I want to be told is that my laundry folding is not as valuable as I keep telling myself it is.
There are many moments in my day when the only thing that gets me through hand washing a pacifier is the notion that I am doing the most valuable work. And while this may get the dishes washed, it also has St. Martha’s pathos written all over it.
Every time I talk about the story of Mary and Martha, someone tries to educate me on why I need to be more Team Martha. This has happened so many times that I want to plant my flag in the sand: Martha was the worst. She had the messiah in her house, and she decided it was the perfect time to clean and complain.
Imagine what it must have been like to have known Jesus the way she did and to have welcomed him into her home for a meal. Mary is not sitting at the feet of a highly regarded teacher; she is sitting at the feet of the messiah himself. And no one wants that seat.
Being in the presence of our Savior means facing your own soul in a way that probably disgusted Martha. Being the presence of Jesus means giving up on hiding your best-kept secrets: your addiction to booze, porn, and yelling at your kids. Jesus, it turns out, knows about all that stuff.
I imagine many of us would rather scrub floors than deal honestly with the mess of our souls.
For much of my life I told myself that Jesus needed me in the world working diligently on his behalf. I believed if I really loved him then I would do everything he asked me to do. Only, there is no real Jesus Barometer to measure my works quota. I could never do enough. But based on what I was hearing in seminary… Jesus needed me to do all the things.
Our son Neil was the first sign that my theology might be askew. Babies come into this world adoring their mothers. They are needy and often smelly, sure. But babies love you without your ever having done anything for them. I gave birth over Christmas break my second year of seminary and came back to school a completely different person.
I began ignoring people who tried to make me feel bad about not glomming onto whatever efforts thy had deemed important. I was over this notion that Jesus was interested in me signing petitions. Incidentally, I might have been a bit short-tempered because in my real life I was feeding an adorable baby every two-to-three hours in the evenings.
Part of the reason we make a habit of loving Martha is because she feels so incredibly relatable. Unlike the Biblical trio of David, Sarah, and Peter—Martha does not have a positive story to balance out the bad one we all have written onto our do-gooder hearts. Martha did not rule a nation, she did not birth the people of Israel, and she was not the first leader of the church.
Martha was just a woman who did not want to face herself in the light of Jesus. Which is, perhaps, an apt description of most of us.
Jesus tells us in the story that Mary had chosen the “better part.” We may nod our heads and mimic agreement with him but, in practice, we all know this is debatable. Sitting at the feet of Jesus sounds like a very difficult way to spend a dinner party. And yet, it is the place where we most belong.
Martha is the Prodigal Daughter of the Gospel. We might like to think of her as the high-accomplishing elder brother in the story, but I give her more credit than that. Just as the Prodigal Son charged toward his father’s house, speech in hand, ready to tell him how their relationship would proceed, Martha came at Jesus with her own monologue. She demanded of Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus assures Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled by many things.”
It is clear that Jesus knows Martha even when she has not sat at his feet. He loves her even when she cannot find a way to accept his unmerited grace.
Our work, well intentioned as it is, was not going to be the thing to save us. Jesus had done that already.
The birth of my son took me down my own path as a Prodigal Daughter, and I never saw it coming. His birth made me long for a kind of unearned grace I desperately needed. In her incredible book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott clearly describes what I was looking for:
It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.
In my third year of seminary, I had finally begun to learn what it meant to be a Christian. I was no longer exhausted by the siren call of self-righteousness. Jesus had saved me even from that.
God willing, we all eventually get tired of running form our Redeemer. We tire of self-justifying, worrying if we have done enough, and obsessing over the work of everyone else. It is there that we find Jesus waiting for us…
Like our sister Martha, he beckons us to hold up the dishrag of surrender and say, “Alright, Jesus, I give up. I’ll sit down.”