Martha owned a house in Bethany. Her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus lived with her there. We know from events a couple years later that Lazarus will die and be raised again. We know that Martha will understand who Jesus is far better than we read here. We know that she will keep hosting large groups of people.
But on this day with this house full of guests, Martha is feeling pretty frustrated. And Martha is willing to ask the person who she believes is causing the problem to fix the problem.
“Lord,” she says. “Don’t you care that I’m left taking care of all of you all by myself? My sister isn’t helping at all. In fact, she’s doing what she always does, sitting. Can you tell her to help a little?”
It feels pretty familiar. We are concentrating on making God happy, doing all the hard work that matters. And someone else is looking all spiritual. Sitting listening to sermon podcasts. Sitting reading Christian books. Sitting having coffee with people talking about Jesus. And we’re doing the hard work. We’re setting up the chairs, we’re tearing down the chairs, we’re doing the work.
We’re concentrating so hard on our annoyance that we aren’t listening to Jesus while we are working.
That’s what it says in the middle of the story. Mary was listening but Martha was distracted by all the preparations. Martha could have been doing the work without being distracted by the work.
Martha was built to handle the administrative tasks. Martha was created to fix meals for large groups, to provide care for a sickly brother, to manage a household. That’s what actually gave her life. The work wasn’t the problem. It was the story of envy that was creeping in. She was afraid that Mary was doing nothing and getting all the attention of Jesus. She was afraid that all her hard work for Jesus was being ignored.
So Martha finally erupted.
And Jesus talked to her.
Not in the way she wanted. Jesus did not tell Mary to get up and help. He simply told Martha that she needed to pay attention, to not get distracted about the why of the work.
On the other hand, Jesus didn’t tell Martha to stop working. After all, the whole group needed to eat.
But Jesus did acknowledge Martha. He did care about her. He did respond to her cry for help. It’s what Jesus does. Because that’s who Jesus is.