You can hear her, can’t you? “Lord, do you not care that this sister of mine has left all the work for me to do by myself?” I am tired of every time company shows up for dinner I am left alone, bringing the water to wash to their feet, taking their coats, making sure they are content and cared for. That’s what you tell us to do, isn’t it Jesus? Help each other? So tell her to get off that floor and to serve someone. Tell her to help me.
You not only can hear her, you can see her. She’s standing there, with her arms folded, her foot tapping, her teeth clenched. All compassion and patience left hours ago, and what stayed around was this frustration at always having to be the responsible sister, of never getting to run off and play like everyone else, of always being good and noble and hospitable, and for cryin’ out loud, if Mary won’t pay attention to the glares and sighs she’s been giving her for the past hour, she’s goin’ directly to the top, Jesus at least will plead her case. “Lord, do you not care that this irresponsible sister of mine is sitting there doing absolutely nothing.” “Lord, do you not care…”
I think her telltale sign, is those crossed arms. Stop for a moment, don’t move and look down at your own arms, where are they? How are you sitting? Are your legs crossed and turned away from me? Are you folding your hands? Are you leaning forward? Or maybe you’re just trying to keep your eyes open? Any good body language expert would say that if you’re arms are crossed and your trying to get as far back in your seat as possible…if you’re drawing into yourself, you are definitely not engaged…you’re not open…you’re pulling in on yourself, and unwilling to receive what’s being offered. Because there is no way you can receive Jesus when literally and figuratively you’ve blocked off your heart.
A story: About four or five people were on a mission trip in an inner city. They were working in some soup kitchen or food pantry or something like that. And one of the workers invited them for dinner at their home. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m hosting a dinner party I spend most of the week cleaning—I vacuum up the broken pretzels on the floor, I clean the bathrooms, spray pretty smelling stuff in the air, buy flowers for the top of the piano. I get matching napkins and tablecloths and try to project this perfect hospitable persona. On this occasion, however, when the mission trip people entered the workers’ home, it was evident there was no such preparation—there was cat hair all over the floor—a pile of laundry waiting to be folded next to the couch; there were mismatched plates and folding chairs and box mac and cheese for dinner. But, what the storyteller also said, was there was this most amazing air of openness, the most amazing hospitality. The table had two empty place-settings, waiting for the daughter and her boyfriend; another friend called in the middle of dinner, and was instantly invited over to join the party, not told to call another time. The conversation didn’t center around how lovely the centerpiece was, but on the travelers’ experiences in a new city and their hopes for renewal at home. The hosts didn’t present themselves with arms folded, but opened wide their arms, longing to receive what gifts of presence their guests had to offer.
“Martha, Martha…why are you distracted by so many other things—there is need of only one thing…and your sister here as chosen the better part.” Here’s the thing—we all can be Martha’s, trying so desperately to do what’s right, putting on a good show, showing the world that we’ve got it together. But, more often than not, we do so, with our arms crossed, pushing that very world away. Jesus doesn’t chastise Martha for serving, he’s actually giving her a gift—calling her to open her arms, to open her eyes, to open her heart, to the gift that is sitting right in front of her. “Martha…Martha, there is need of only one thing…”
So you know, this really isn’t entirely a story about Martha, or Mary for that matter, but it’s about Jesus. It’s about a God who took on the glorious body of this world and did it with arms wide open. It’s about a Savior who sees us trying so desperately to serve our way into goodness and who wants us open our eyes to the one and only thing. It’s about Jesus, who loves us so much, that he meets us as we’re vacuuming the floor, or drying the dishes or listening to a sermon, and he walks right up to us, takes a clenched fist in each hand, and gently unfolds our arms.
You know this story doesn’t have an ending—we have no idea if Mary got up anyway and helped with some dusting or if Martha took her hand and sat down to listen. We have no idea is Martha stomped off in disgust or if she realized that sister Mary was doing the right thing. What we do know, though, is what Jesus did…that he ended his life with open arms—open wide enough for all of us cross-armed ones. What we do know is that following Jesus is more difficult than we ever dreamed it would be, but that opening ourselves up to the world, eating at a table with room for one more, serving with fists unclenched and hearts ready to receive, living in the love of Jesus is the one thing, the only thing that will never be taken way.