Luke 10:40-42 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
She knows that Jesus talks about taking care of others, especially our neighbors. The Good Samaritan was a story she had just heard and she knows that our actions are important. She knows that our faith without actions is empty. She is determined to show that she has figured it out, that she understands what Jesus is getting at. Hospitality to those less fortunate. Well Martha knows how to do hospitality.
Or she would if her sister would pitch in and do her fair share. And as Martha juggles getting the side of lamb out of the oven at the same time as the vegetables are done, with the setting of the table and making sure that everyone has a chair, she reaches the breaking point. Can’t you just hear the things she’s telling herself? “If that Mary wasn’t wandering around with her head in the clouds, she’d have the flowers in the vase by now. She can’t even remember that the salad fork goes before the dinner fork. And if I’ve told her once, I’ve told her a thousand times, the blue napkins go with the best dishes, not the green napkins! How that girl will ever survive this world without me I’ll never know. Honestly!”
There are a lot of Marthas out there, juggling the wine menu with the meat and the Prada shoes with the Gucci handbag. I knew a lady at city hall who spent $500 on a pair of blue jeans, and always bought matching toenail polish whenever she bought a new pair of sandals.
I met a mom who has spent her life so filled with driving her kids to hockey and soccer practises that she gets panic attacks when she wonders what she will do now that they are leaving home. I saw a dad barking lessons at his son while the little boy ran in the children’s triathlon yesterday, like he was an Olympic coach determined to have the boy win the race and who would slack off if he didn’t hear dad’s push to ignore his body and push through to the end. We have to constantly teach our children to juggle more and more things so that they don’t become, well quite bluntly, thugs and addicts. Heaven knows what they might do if they have too much time on their hands.
So Martha explodes at Jesus, and uses some of the nastiest tricks of female bullies in every century, triangulation, pressure cooking and shaming. Triangulation is when we complain about someone’s behavior behind their backs. It’s gossip and slander, and can be very destructive to family and church. There’s pressure cooking where you collect tiny grievances into a pot and simmer it until it explodes and rather than deal with the issues when they are tiny, you dump them all over the victim in a hot mess. And there’s my personal bugbear, public shaming. Nothing can beat it for making someone feel terrible. So, Mr. Jesus, my rabbi, what do you think of my lazy sister here who isn’t helping set the table? Teacher, tell her to be a proper female, and get back to her place in the kitchen with me. Why should she get all the attention? I need help with my juggling and she should help. Look at how hard I am working for the kingdom, sacrificing my time and my energy to serve you, and she should be more like me, shouldn’t she?
I cringe when I remember times when a family member would recount my personal shortcomings at a party in public. I also realize how incredibly sexist it is. Rabbis at the time of Jesus were having heated debates about the propriety of having female rabbinical students who could one day preach or lead a synagogue.
It still goes on today, popping up when I least expect it. At the Strawberry tea this month, a lady stopped me and said, “that handsome man there waiting tables, is he the minister here, dearie?” “No,” I said, “He’s the minister’s husband.”
It’s not just me. I’ve seen grown men cry when they recount their parents bullying them to be more, do more, run faster, and shaming them in public. I got a letter this week from our president of Alberta Northwest Conference saying he was told that he speaks English real good for someone of his race, and another who said aloud in his presence, “the church needs to put that fat black boy in his place.”
Enough! Our best man at our wedding was what some people call ‘pakki’, and an elegant, beautiful soul; he does not drive a taxi in Mill Woods, but has a PhD in Pharmacy and lives in Ottawa. The racism is here in this building, this town, this country. It leads to so much anger and resentment and rage that people shoot police, murder 5 year olds or drives trucks into families out to watch fireworks.
We need to stop all the juggling and pretence. Our works are not going to help us get into heaven when we die. Shaming others will not save their souls! Jesus told Martha, you are full of worries. Stop it. Come and sit with Mary and let me help you get your priorities straight. Stop juggling. Rest. Breathe. Remember it’s about loving. Loving yourself as much as you are loving others. Love God. The Samaritan was able to do what he did because he first loved God. Put that first before all the doing. Love, Martha. Love.