The story of Martha and Mary in the Bible is one of my favorites. It is about two sisters who respond differently when Jesus comes to their house for dinner. Martha is busy with preparations, rushing around to get everything done. In the meantime, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him talk.
I think many of us identify with one of the sisters. For me, I am most like Martha. When I have guests, I am constantly busy making sure everyone has what they need. In between tasks, I try to visit with my guests, but I always have things I need to do as well.
In the Bible story, Martha is upset when Mary doesn’t get up and help her. When Martha complains to Jesus, she expects him to order Mary to help. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus does just the opposite. He tells Martha that Mary has chosen the best way and he will not take that opportunity from her.
An incident in Seven Is a Perfect Number was the perfect place to introduce this story. When the sharp-tongued Mrs. Henry breaks her leg, the Handy Helpers are called upon to help with some of her daily tasks. Reluctantly, they respond to Mrs. Henry’s daughter Clara’s plea to “not give up on her.” After spending an afternoon vacuuming and dusting Mrs. Henry’s house, Melissa comes home very upset. This is what happened:
“It’s just not right,” Melissa said as she plopped down on the sofa in her living room.
“What’s that, dear?” Her grandmother asked.
“We worked like slaves at Mrs. Henry’s house, dusting and vacuuming and mopping. And she didn’t even say thanks.”
“I’m sure she appreciated what you did for her,” Sarah patted her granddaughter on the shoulder. “It’s just hard for her to admit she needs help.”
“That’s not the worst part,” Melissa went on. “All the time we were working on her house, she was sitting there with Beth Anne, talking and laughing. They were looking at her photo album. Beth Anne didn’t even offer to help.”
“Talking to Mrs. Henry was helping,” Sarah pointed out.
“No it wasn’t,” Melissa continued, getting more upset. “She’s really lazy. I’m glad we didn’t vote to let her in the Handy Helpers.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sarah said, surprised.
“We were all working hard and she wasn’t doing anything. Like I said, she’s lazy.”
“That’s one way to look at it,” Sarah said, patiently, “but maybe there’s another side you haven’t thought of.”
“There’s a story from the Bible that might help,” Sarah went on.
“No offense, Grandma. But I don’t think something that happened to people thousands of years ago is going to be much help to me today.”
“I think you’ll be surprised. Anyway, humor an old lady and let me tell it. The story is about two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha met Jesus and invited him to her home. She worked very hard to get everything ready and when Jesus arrived, Martha was busy serving food. Instead of helping her, her sister Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened to him talk. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Don’t you care that my sister is letting me do all the serving myself? Tell her to help me.’ Jesus said to Martha, ‘You are worried about many things. But you only need one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and I won’t take it from her.’”
“So,” Melissa said with a shrug, “Jesus didn’t make Mary help her sister. I think he should have. She was being lazy.”
“Giving Jesus food was one way to serve him,” Sarah explained, “but Mary was serving him as well.”
“By just sitting there on the floor?”
“There are lots of ways to serve Jesus,” Sarah went on. “Serving him food was Martha’s way. He didn’t reject Martha or the food she served him. He just wanted her to see that Mary was also serving him by listening to his word. They were both serving Jesus, but he told Martha that Mary’s way was better.”
“Well Beth Anne was only talking to Mrs. Henry, not listening to Jesus,” Melissa stated emphatically. “It’s not the same.”
“I’m not so sure. Maybe Mrs. Henry needed someone to talk to more than she needed a clean house,” Sarah said.
From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number
We are all called to have a servant’s heart and to serve one another through love. But first we must have a heart for Jesus as Mary did. It is easy for me to be like Martha and I’m happy to serve others. But it is my prayer that I can become more like Mary. For I am convinced that I will be a much more contented servant of Christ.