"You always get like this when we have company over," my husband would say in frustration. "You don't need to have everything perfect you know." I didn't know. I thought it should be perfect.
"Help me or get out of my way" I would say, sometimes out loud. It would be so nice for our guests if everything was perfect. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be nice for me. If everyone was impressed with my charming centerpieces, assorted serving dishes and an impressive, if not delicious menu, they might not notice the dirty floors.
And then, one day I was invited to some one's home who had their laundry out, piles of papers on the counter and crumbs on the floor. It looked a lot like my house. I felt at home while we visited. There were no pretensions. It was a good thing.
I thought of that this week when I read the familiar story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, hanging on every word he said. Martha was busy with getting the meal ready and frustrated that she was not getting any help from Mary. Naturally, she implored Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Instead Jesus told Martha to take a chill pill.
(This is how my mind works: as a child I learned how to tell the difference between Cain and Abel by this little saying: "Cain was not able." So as I think of the two sisters, in my mind I hear: "Martha was not merry." I also hear Jan Brady saying with a lisp: "Martha, Martha, Martha!" which helps me remember nothing.)
Why so harsh, Jesus? Martha was just trying to make you a nice meal and needed some help. I get it that it's important to hang out with you and hang on every word you say, but it's also important to help people in need. And if Martha needed help to feed you and your friends, what's wrong with her wanting her sister to help? These are thoughts that I have had in the past as I've read this story.
Something else I've thought about is how glad I am that Jesus didn't tell Mary to go help her sister in the kitchen. I'm glad that it is better to spend time with Jesus than to worry about the work needs to be done. That way I can play the Mary card when my house is messy. "My house is not clean but I've chosen the better thing, etc., etc." I am that spiritual.
I kid. Mostly. But this week as I read this story again, it occurred to me that Jesus wasn't making a statement about working or not, he was making a statement about what was appropriate for the occasion.
That changed my entire outlook on the story. I have been a guest of someone who has made such a big fuss over entertaining that they were not very fun to be around. I have also been the one in the kitchen fussing and fuming while others sit and visit with each other. Neither experience is very good. There are times when making a big fuss is too fussy. There are times when entertaining is not very hospitable.
Jesus invited Martha to relax and enjoy herself in his presence, relieving her of the pressure she felt to perform. He invites me to do the same.