The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. (Luke 10:41, The Message)
As a person who gets caught up in the irritations of domestic arrangements, I identify with Martha. I’m not particularly adept at the wide array of household arts and sciences, but I know how things "ought" to be, and there are times, my family would tell you, when I hold myself ferociously to that unreachable standard.
(It’s possible I may do the same in other areas. Don’t tell anyone, okay?)
When I was in seminary I wrote a short, imaginative piece about the difficulty of putting on that meal with Peter hanging around in the kitchen telling Martha all the things she was doing wrong. I’m not sure why I picked on Peter, except that he does do the darnedest things, doesn’t he? But if Martha was anything like me, and I feel fairly sure she was, I know from experience that we don’t need an actual Peter in the kitchen. We can drive our own selves crazy without any help from the outside.
(I suspect we aren’t the only two women about whom this might be said.)
The desire to keep the pot lids hanging where they belong is one variation on the central theme of keeping the lid on things. But if you have put a big pot of water on to boil, as I did for corn on the cob tonight, you know that if the water is high enough and boiling furiously, steam will lift the lid, and in certain cases will take it right off.
Martha’s lid is just rising up at the corner. She feels the pressure of frustration and annoyance. She has been left with the tasks that are usually thankless, and not just in her time and place. She expects to have a partner in her work: her sister.
But there is Mary, simply being, forgetting all about doing.
And Jesus, Lord love him, supports her!
Martha, usually so powerful in her own domain, must have felt about two inches high.
My sons sometimes tease me. #1 Son tells me it’s the way he talks to all his friends. I have been known to point out stuffily that I am not his friend; I am his MOTHER. It makes no difference. He continues to tease and kid. Two years ago when it was time to pick up Harry Potter #6, he went with me to the book store late at night and stood in line. He teased then, too, joked about the embarrassment of being seen there, and we surely did run into a friend of his from high school. I took the teasing well.
But last night, Snowman took his brother’s role, and I did not find the kidding so enjoyable. Sometimes it upsets my nerves, and this was one of those times. Ditched in favor of a friend, I stood next to a young woman who had been to a bar before lining up and did my best not to take in her intoxicating exhales. There I was, standing in line at midnight, buying not one but TWO copies of the book, and this was the thanks I got?
Songbird, dear Songbird, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.
I mean, whose idea was this in the first place? Did anyone else ask you to pick up the book at midnight? Couldn’t you have gone to the store on Saturday morning instead?
You would have to be pretty familiar, and by this I probably mean familial, with a person to take that kind of talk from them, wouldn’t you?
At the risk of mixing gospels, which I don’t generally like to do, we know from John’s story of Jesus’ friendship with Martha’s family that they were exceptionally close. We also know that Martha is earnest and faithful and way too literal in the way she hears things. Her first thought on the opening of her brother’s tomb? How badly it will stink! I imagine Jesus knew this about her very well.
It’s hard to put down the spoon or the vacuum or the car keys or the scalpel or the Bible when we have convinced ourselves that we are loved only when we are applying ourselves, behaving responsibly, driving purposefully. The trouble is how inclined we are to drive ourselves purposefully around the bend and away from love and acceptance.
Martha, Martha, haven’t we been over this before? I don’t care about
the food, I’m just glad to be here with your family. I didn’t come to
insist you adhere to our rules of hospitality or to abandon them, but
to give you a new way of living them altogether. Take the pot off the
boil and come, sit down. We love your cooking, but we love you more.
Sometimes, that kind of teasing doesn’t make me tense up more. Sometimes it brings a smile to my face and reminds me of what really matters. I hope it did for Martha, too.