Oh, to experience the vibrancy of truly being alive each and every day! To be alive is one thing, to be active and vibrant, another. Yet how easily we accept what is less than life! It makes sense because it is easier and requires less of us. Wax fruit in a bowl looks lovely and only requires an occasional dusting; silk plants don’t need fresh water or replacing. Our neighbor has artificial grass in his yard because he got tired of mowing the real. This is all helpful and good as long as we don’t begin to mistake the dead for the living.
When it comes to books, there are those that entertain, some that teach and some that frighten. However, not one is of value until it is read. I have some old books with pretty red covers I use to decorate my living room but I’ve never read any of the poetry within so they just sit there looking lovely, only now and then needing a quick dusting.
However, there is one book that is worth reading and reading and then reading again. Of course, I am referencing the Bible. The only book that is alive and speaks new truths each time it is read is worth so much more than just sitting and looking pretty, only needing a quick dusting now and then. I love the Bible and read it daily but I’m a fast reader so it’s easy for me to skip over passages and verses with barely a thought. The very familiarity of the stories is a call for me to slow down and read with intention. As I have worked at doing so I’ve been seeing new things, as when I recently re- read the story of Mary and Martha.
Most likely you know the story. It is so common and we are so used to it being told we are likely to give it just a quick dusting as we pass by. Jesus liked to stay with sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus when in a town called Bethany. Luke tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, so it seems she had a gift of hospitality. Martha and Laz had a sister called Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him speak and teach. This is pretty remarkable as women were not typically included in the teachings of Rabbis, but she was obviously welcome in Jesus’ home group.
On this particular day Martha got busy serving Jesus. Perhaps she loved to cook and entertain – or perhaps she felt obligated, especially with her sister doing nothing to help, just sitting there hanging on every word Jesus said. Can’t you imagine Martha stewing over the stew as she mumbled and grumbled about her unfortunate role and Mary’s oblivion to how hard she, Martha was working? Have you ever felt this way about something? Of course you have! We all have, which is what makes this story so relevant. Finally Martha just couldn’t hold it in any longer and pointed out the injustice to Jesus. His response was not what she expected. Instead of rebuking ‘perfect’ Mary, he rebuked her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Oh great. Just great. Now Jesus was ‘taking Mary’s side’ which most likely did nothing to calm Martha’s temper. The three words used in this story to describe Martha are distracted, worried and troubled. Ouch! Sound familiar in anyone’s life but Martha’s and mine?
Truth is: we all can relate to how Martha must have felt. She felt used and put upon with all that serving and her anger came from self-pity. Then Jesus Himself rebukes her and praises her sister (talk about fuel on a fire!). I wonder if at this point Martha hated who she was? You know what I’m talking about. “If only…” If only I were more calm: more like Mary: kinder: less type A: able to keep my mouth shut. I wonder if Martha thought that of course it would be easy for Jesus to love Mary and hard to love her? I wonder if there is a person on earth who has not had a similar thought about themselves? How impossible it is to Love Yourself To Life when you don’t even like yourself and it is hard to like yourself when Jesus doesn’t defend your self-imposed misery.
HOWEVER! There is more to the story than meets the eye. If I stop reading here I walk away thinking Jesus really didn’t like Martha as much as Mary. Let’s be real: I walk away sure Jesus loves quiet, studious Mary more than bold, loud Martha. Good for me if I’m quiet and studious. Not so good if I’m bold and loud. This mindset justifies the mistaken belief that Jesus loves another more than me. Let’s not so easily accept the ‘dead’ (lie) for the ‘alive’(truth)!
Thankfully John tells another story about this family at a later time when Lazarus is sick and dying. Both sisters sent a message to Jesus to come quick and knew He would when they reminded Jesus of how He loved Lazarus: “Lord, he whom You love is sick”. Then comes a sentence filled with wonderful, power-packed, marvelous truth: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Do you see it?! It doesn’t say, “Now Jesus loved Mary who was perfect and Lazarus who was sick and oh yeah, Martha, too.” Martha is the first one mentioned and John didn’t even mention Mary’s name. The emphasis this time is on Jesus’ love of Martha. Martha! The loud, impatient, bossy, distracted and worried one – Jesus loved HER! For the love of Lazarus, for the love of Mary, and yes, for Martha whom He loved, He came to Bethany despite the fact there were men there wanting to kill Him.
Each member of this family had their own unique ability, personality and story, just like your family and every other, and Jesus loved each of them uniquely, personally and fully. I had not previously seen this truth that tells me of Jesus’ specific love for Martha. Seeing it, I have hope that, just as for the love of Martha Jesus risked His life by returning to Bethany, He loves me that much as well, even in my imperfection. On another day not long after this, for the love of Martha, for the love of you and me, He GAVE His life so we, the worried, troubled and anxious ones, might live in joy and peace.
This week, when those moments of insecurity come: when you realize you can’t be as holy or good as someone else: when you need some reassurance that perfection is not your qualification to be loved, bring to mind Martha. Remember that the Bible took space to specifically say that Jesus loved her and in doing so, offers a reassuring hug to each of us as well. Put your name in place of hers and let the truth of His love for you sink in. Knowing and accepting His acceptance of you enables you to recognize the living reality of how valued and loved you are and is a sure-fire way to
Love Yourself To Life.