What’s wrong with being a Martha?

I am aptly named Martha. I am a doer just like the one in the bible. But why does Jesus chastise her? Why would he condemn serving? What does he really want from her, and us?

As much as I hate my given name, Martha, I embody its biblical reference of a task-oriented, get-it-done kind of person. I generally am the one in the background organizing, planning and DOING.

In church we have been taught for years (from Luke 1o) that being a Martha is a bad thing. Don’t be like her. You should be more like Mary. The one that sat at the feet of Jesus and listened when Martha was working. You can even read books learning how to be more like Mary.

But what’s wrong with being goal oriented, organized, and focused. I cannot completely divorce myself from my first-born, natural leader self to shirk duties, forego an obvious need and leave something undone. I wouldn’t be able to be present with the task at hand knowing I was not fulfilling my obligations and duties. It is just who I am. It is how God made me, if you want to get all churchy about it.

So what really was Martha’s sin? Didn’t Jesus and the guests need to eat? Why was Mary really rewarded and made the bastion of all womankind for being a slacker? That theology does not compute with me.

Jesus has discussed this concept before with the disciples about the woman who broke the perfume bottle on his feet. (John 12) The disciples chastised her for wasting the perfume, which she could have sold and donated the money to the poor. But Jesus said (Marti translation) you will always have the poor but me, not so much.

Yeah, I know the perfume foreshadowed his death and burial. But it says more about what God wants from us, something I’m not always good at – relationship.

I don’t think Jesus was chastising  the disciples for wanting to take care of the poor. Just like I don’t think Jesus was rebuking Martha for being herself.  Both of those tasks are important and good.

Many times Jesus tells us to take care of the poor, the widows and orphans. Martha, well she was the original hostess with the mostess. Think of her culture, her work was expected, but what Jesus drew issue with was that she never stopped. If you think about it Jesus was throwing culture out the window by celebrating women being in the room. He was giving them a place in the conversation and movement.

Jesus wanted Martha to be present. He wanted her to hear him. I know in my life I complain that Jesus isn’t speaking. He isn’t clear. But is it really that I’m not listening? Is there too much noise? Am I distracted? Am I too focused on tasks? Probably. I rarely slow down. My mind is constantly moving.

God has a way of getting our attention. Because he wants us to just BE with him. How in the world do you do that? I think in some regards that has been part of my journey and story for the past 2 and a half years. In my former life I was a doer. I was in two small groups, lead two support groups, and volunteered for several organizations. It’s all good stuff but at the end of the day I was exhausted, not recharged. I was needed but after a while I had nothing left to give.

The spiritual discipline of silence or noticing God is one I first heard of in grad school. As I’ve struggled these last six months, most specifically, with what’s next in my life I realize that my ears weren’t attuned to really hearing God.  So that’s what I’m working on, listening.

It’s hard to do there is so much clutter in my brain. While my lifestyle has been drastically simplified my mind is a scary space. There is a lot going on in there. I tend to even opt for activities in this area. I’ll do a bible study. I’ll go to worship night. I”m at church on Sunday. Again, all of these things are good, but not that point.

It’s about silence, centeredness, and a space of being able to really commune with God. I have done mini-silent retreats and it took me half the time to just unwind. I even went to a “silent” movie in 2007, no it wasn’t a Charlie Chaplin flix. It was a rare glimpse into a silent order of monks hidden away in the mountains in Europe. It took me over two hours to settle into the movie.

So I’m working on it. I’m trying to be more focused. Of course my first thought is to study about it, figure out how to do it. I have about four (unread) books on it in my library. But I’m trying to keep it simple. Much to come on this, I’m sure.


About Marti

After a year-long sabbatical in Southern California I am returning to Ohio to try and resume my life. Who knew you went home again to start living.

Posted on August 10, 2010, in Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This blog has helped me so much! I am a Martha, too, and a doer. I recently had back surgery for a herniated disc (from my over-doing) and I am having to cut down on almost everything. I have another herniated disc in my neck and have physical pain that is sometimes almost unbearable. But, I have sat at God’s feet more in the last three months and learned to listen more than ever before. [I have taught a Bible study on prayer three different times, at my church and in the neighborhood, and the week we got to how to listen to the Lord I always had another person teach that week – supposedly so I could take a break. But, the real reason why was because I stink at being still and listening.] I also learned, through the rehab when I have to walk for 30 minutes daily, that I love talking to the Lord while on the treadmill. God showed me to be ok with myself. He made me to move so not being able to sit for long periods of time and pray is okay! I can hear and talk to God better when I am moving. It doesn’t have when I am sitting still! I can be centered in Christ while I am moving – not doing but moving. Who said it HAD to be while we were sitting? Listening to the Word on the treadmil and talking to the Lord on the treadmill was freeing to me.
    It is nice to know other Marthas are struggling with this same problem. Looking forward to meeting you in heaven – and all the other Marthas too – especially the one who was Mary’s sister 🙂

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