As a child, when I heard the story of Mary and Martha, I cast myself without hesitation in the lead role as Mary. Martha (the shrew: shrill and stout with course, graying hair; or possibly lean and accusing with narrow eyes) didn’t hold a great deal of appeal, while Mary (the heroine: decorative and young with large, serene eyes) was graceful and kind and “chose the better part.” Besides, what idiot would choose chores over time with the Lord?
Of course, the story is more nuanced than I knew. The town called Mary “the sinner” (Jesus said her sins “were many”), and later we see her weeping and anointing her Lord’s feet with precious ointment of spikenard and wiping it with her hair, annoying Judas Iscariot with the extravagance of her gesture. She wept at Jesus’ feet when Lazarus lay dead, and she sat at Jesus’ feet at their home in Bethany. Mary “loved much,” and her many sins were forgiven. Jesus told her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50, ESV).
Martha, who reminds me of the prodigal son’s older brother, kept the household running and ran herself ragged in the process. The Lord called her “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). She had her good points, mind you, but who remembers them?
I still want to be Mary, but I’d be cast against type. Any sitting at his feet I should do runs a distant second to the daily Sturm und Drang of parenting and housekeeping. My theme verse these days is Proverbs 14:4—“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.”
If I had a big crisis like cancer or a car accident or a child in danger, I would not hesitate to seek His face. But it’s hard to remember that the God of the universe is “a very present help” when I’m scrabbling for a clean rag to eliminate various excretions or relocating a lizard or using my psychic powers to tell whether a child is lying. I know I will get credit for giving a cup of cold water in His name, but what if I lose my temper because the child spills it?
I apologized to the children the other day for being cranky. My son said, “I didn’t know adults got cranky.” Martha knew. She had the audacity to tattle on her sister to Jesus. Ouch. And she didn’t have to worry about mercury in the fish supply, hormones in the milk, and lead in the lunch box liners. Some days, the idea of multiple wives even sounds reasonable—at least there would always be a babysitter and someone to talk to.
How do I study for the role of Mary? I’d imagine being forgiven a lot (yes, I have been), always being found at Jesus’ feet (well, I’ll do that as soon as I get off the computer or when the laundry is done or when I get dinner started or when the kids go to bed tonight), and starting to “love much” (about time, too).
Here’s a bright spot: she did choose the better part. The Lord told Martha, “One thing is needful.” Even with chores to be done and help to be given, Mary carved out a slice of her time to sit and listen. And she did not let Martha’s worries budge her from her own seat at the feet of Christ.
Soon enough, my house arrest with four energetic ankle bracelets will end; and the fresh, raw smells and sounds of a young family churning the house inside out will be replaced with a more sedate, peaceful ambiance. I will have time to reflect on what I could have done differently or better had I only done what Mary did: seized the time available to me night and day and spent it with my Lord. “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually” (1 Chron. 16:11).
If I start sitting and listening like Mary now (instead of worrying like Martha), then at the end of the day, “When the hurly-burly’s done/When the battle’s lost and won” (to quote a Weird Sister in Macbeth), I will be able to look back without regrets, and say, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). And maybe when my children hear the story, they won’t picture me as Martha.Beth Murschell is married to Mick, a computer programmer, and they live in Bradenton, Florida. Her master’s degree is in music education, but her past work experience includes industrial cleaning, childcare, bumper factory, fast food, camp work (three different camps), music team, telemarketer, media center, music educator, sixth-grade teacher, maid, retail, writer, and now mother of four. She has lived in Panama City, Louisville, Greenville, Miami, Brevard, Quakertown, and Bradenton.