January 21, 1992
Some kitchens, no matter their size, are not big enough for two cooks. I can remember when I was a young mother and had to share a kitchen with my mother. We did not agree on anything. She wanted the appliances in one cupboard, their cords in another. I thought the mixer, cords, beaters and bowls should all be together... and on it went.
Far from being a 20th Century North American phenomena, when Jesus and his disciples were invited for dinner, Mary and Martha’s kitchen shrank too! Luke tells the story in chapter 10. Apparently both were making lunch but Mary decided to leave the pots and pans and wander into the living room. Martha was furious. She called Jesus and told Him to make her sister come and help her. (Note, although she appealed to the highest authority, she was telling Him what to do.)
Jesus’ response was not what she expected: “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.”
The details of the incident are left to our imaginations. Knowing women, it may be that Mary noticed these men were far more occupied with theological truth than culinary skills so she voted for quick nourishment, perhaps peanut butter sandwiches. But Martha wanted roast turkey and all the trimmings. She wouldn’t hear of feeding sandwiches to the Son of God. Besides, what would He think of her if she didn’t put out her best spread?
Obviously Mary wasn’t trying to impress Jesus with her cooking. Other passages about her reveal that she was the only one who realized He would not be with them much longer. Perhaps she felt an urgency to know more about Him and more about how to live as one who trusted Him. Perhaps she knew neither big meals nor any other personal accomplishment would improve her standing with Him. Perhaps she realized she needed Him to make an impression on her — the impression of His righteous image stamped deep on her life.
Martha seemed to have different desires and certainly different priorities. While it may have appeared a good thing to be busy with “much serving” and a natural thing to be distressed about Mary’s choice, Jesus’ gentle rebuke shows that something was wrong.
Martha’s anxiety was a clue. What was important here: how she looked (based on how she cooked) or calmly trusting His acceptance — based on His love, not her service? On the other hand, Mary already knew that Jesus saw right through her. Nothing she could accomplish would change what He saw. Only HE could make her acceptable.
Mary choose the “good part,” to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He had to say. I’m sure she discovered many new things about herself. Some of them may have made her uncomfortable, even filled with shame, as Martha no doubt eventually felt after the rebuke. But Mary came to Him anyway. She knew His Words healed and He would forgive her if she trusted Him and confessed her sinfulness.
The story of Martha and Mary is not an excuse for we who cook or share a kitchen to abandon our culinary responsibilities and read the Bible all day. Instead, it is a challenge to take inventory. Do outer activities fill our life so we have no time for Jesus? Do we ever stop to ask if we are trying to impress Almighty God? Do we claim to serve Christ yet find ourselves full of anxieties... and resenting others who are not working as hard? Do we even complain to God and insist He do something about them?
In other words, turkey may rate higher than peanut butter in our list of what is important, but where does time with Jesus fit in?