One Thing Needful

I see a lot of myself in Martha. I like to be industrious and keep busy around the house. And trust me, with five kids, there’s always something to be done. The chores never end. And like Martha, I tend to get impatient with those who aren’t helping. Impatience very easily gives way to resentment, and pretty soon I find myself grumbling to God, “Don’t you care that I’m the only one who ever does anything around here?” I may be “serving” others and getting the chores done, but it certainly isn’t with a happy heart.

Seeing as how the account of Mary and Martha is the Gospel lesson for the week, perhaps many of you have been thinking about the story as well. Many times, the take home message is something like this: “It’s better to immerse yourself in God’s Word than to spend your time doing menial tasks.” While there’s a grain of truth to that, at the same time, you can’t take this too far. Household chores do need to be done. Your family has to eat. They need clean clothes. The baby has to be changed. You can’t just cloister yourself in your room all day to read and pray. Jesus knew this. He wasn’t chastising Martha for working. He and His disciples needed to eat, too, and Martha was seeing to that need. What He was chastising was her attitude.

Knowing I would appreciate the insight, my sister-in-law sent me the following blurb from her church bulletin (Cheshire Lutheran Church in Cheshire, CT) from Sunday:

Let’s erase from our minds any unfair contrast between Mary and Martha. Jesus was fond of both sisters; and he deeply appreciated Martha’s hospitality. In this morning’s Gospel he’s not telling you and me that genuine Christian discipleship consists of sitting at his feet while someone else does all the work. There’s not even a hint in this story that Jesus downgraded the service Martha was providing in the kitchen. What disturbed him is clearly expressed in his question: “Martha, Martha, why are you fretting and fussing about so many things?” It was not her hospitality that he was critical of—but rather her fretting and fussing…

I’m not gonna lie to you, that hit home. I can fret and fuss like a pro. When I feel like I’m the only one working, I get upset, and I’m not above whining to God about it. Nor do I suspect I’m the only one who ever feels this way. So what can you do if you find yourself grousing about your service to others, perhaps feeling like you’re taken for granted? Remind yourself who you’re serving. Yes, it may be your kids or spouse or coworkers, but it’s deeper than that, too. Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Interestingly, this passage is part of a section addressed to slaves. Slaves served their masters, but here Paul shows that ultimately, they’re serving God. Same is true for you and for me. The service we render to others here is ultimately for the Lord.

Jesus affirms this principle in Matthew 25:34-45, where he speaks of the sheep and the goats.  To His sheep he says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.  I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The righteous then asked Jesus when they did all these things, and He tells them, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

If God asked you to do laundry for Him, would you do it? If He asked you to clean bathrooms for Him, what would you say? If He wanted you to care for young children all day for His sake, would you? Put in that context, the questions almost sound ridiculous. Yet that’s exactly what His children are asked to do. He places us in homes with families who need our service, and sometimes, that service isn’t terribly glamorous. Cooking and cleaning and changing diapers aren’t exciting, but they need to be done. Remind yourself when you’re in the midst of mundane chores (and perhaps feeling like no one notices your service) that you’re not only serving your family—you’re serving God.

So Martha and I really do have a lot in common. Industrious, yes, and sometimes a bit miffed when others aren’t helping the way we think they should. But the similarities don’t stop there. Despite her attitude, Martha had the privilege of preparing food for Jesus himself. And so, apparently, do I.

Photo is One Thing is Needful by Photo Dean