How would you describe your battlefield? Mine is about 6 feet long, rectangular, with a raggedy honey polish, chipped and out of date, resting on 4 sturdy wooden legs. Our kitchen table is the hotspot of our dailiness. The user manual says it is a piece of furniture with a flat top and four legs used for seated persons to eat meals. But what does it know? Strategically placed at the border of our kitchen and open living room, our table has been part of our family for as long as we can remember. Over the years, it has witnessed smiles and tears, stories of success and failures, sin and grace. We gather around it, and we pray, laugh, hurt, sin, cry, forgive, comfort…and eat on it. No doubt, our raggedy kitchen table is the family hub and minefield.
What comes to mind when you hear the Biblical name Martha? Probably the scene in Luke 10:38-42, named Martha and Mary, where Jesus rebukes Martha’s distracted self and praises her humble sister, Mary. Much about what we assume about Martha comes from this biblical scene. These two women protagonists have been immortalized in modern commentaries as pins of distraction and worship. In fact, so much has been written about Mary and Martha that the subject seems exhausted and the women well stereotyped.
A simple search on the internet of “Martha and Mary” brings up numerous books, blogs and articles, all drawing spiritual moral lessons from the one’s failures, and the other one’s accomplishments. While Martha can’t seem to acknowledge her need of pulling up a chair, grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting it up with Jesus, Mary is quick to plop herself down to savor the greatest news and latest teachings from the very mouth of their Lord. Martha, the self- absorbed busy bee and Mary, the perpetual exemplary student. Martha, the emblem of hectic worldly anxiety. Mary, the pin of serene Christ-centered focus. Such commentaries of the two sisters’ antithetical characters have further led some bloggers to use the two women as moralistic charts of measuring a person’s heart: “Are you Mary or Martha?” Others even objectify the sisters’ traits to the point of fusing them together in a uniquely alchemical solution for spiritual success: “We want Mary’s heart and Martha’s hands” or “Having a Mary’s heart in a Martha world.” Talk about a modern Frankenstein-esque spiritual equation for success!
But is this all there is to Martha? I believe not. I am convinced though that just as Martha has been distracted and missed the very presence of her Savior, so do we miss the very lesson of these scenes by focusing on comparing Martha to her sister, and ignoring the very Savior these verses evolve around. The point of these scenes is not to showcase Martha’s struggles or Mary’s worship, but rather to teach us how Martha’s inadequacies —and those of every other woman for that matter—are met by the self-sufficiency of a perfect Christ.
Our failures and Jesus’ Words
Martha welcomes the Lord into her house—her very own domestic battlefield as it turns out—where sister and brother, friends and guests are doing life together. Not surprisingly, the hub of this scene is the dinner table. In her kitchen. And just like in my home, when family gather at the table things are about to happen. Good things and painful things. And when Jesus is the guest of honor, we are in for an eternal treat.
What seems to be a common mealtime becomes a glorious gospel teaching for Martha with eternal echoes for every woman’s soul. In exposing Martha’s sinful heart, Jesus offers eternal hope for every other soul in need of a Savior. God uses broken women, like Martha, women with many issues and deep struggles to proclaim the glory of his name. Our struggles, surrendered to Jesus, can become megaphones of God’s forgiveness, faithfulness, and love to generations to come.
In just four verses, Martha’s failure is the context for Jesus’ teachings. I am convinced that Martha did not wake up that day thinking about how her sin would be first exposed and addressed by the Savior of the World, then recorded for eternity in the gospel. For all we know, Martha began her day doing what she knew best: serving. We find this wise, energetic and practical woman constantly on her feet as she marathons among her guests. The more I learn about her form other passages in the Bible, the more I imagine the reviews of her kitchen would include accolades like: she presides over big events with excellence and strength; or plenty of great meals have been provided in Martha’s kitchen.
But for all her strengths, it is her heart’s brokenness that the Lord addresses in these verses. Like a doctor carrying for the sick, Jesus walks into her kitchen with an eternal remedy. Jesus saw beyond the baskets of fish, the barrels of water and the furnishings of her kitchen. In the presence of a loving Savior, Martha is learning about her divided heart. Jesus’ truthful words expose her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41a). She is perplexed, harassed with different cares and problems that she is missing the opportunity to rejoice in the Lord’s presence. She is starting to worship gods of her own making, idols that distract her from the pure and sincere devotion to Christ. Like Eve, Martha’s mind has started to wonder away from the presence of her Savior. Worries of this world, envy and selfishness, sinful thoughts and hurtful words.
I’ve always been a Martha fan from the get go. I am convinced it is because her failures speak to mine and also because I have a many things heart myself. My mind wonders too often. Selfish thoughts harass me daily. The world distracts me too frequently. My words hurt too well. Like Martha, I am a messed up woman in need of a Savior.
Jesus, My Portion
I can only imagine how Martha must have felt. Exposed. Embarrassed. Ashamed. The Bible doesn’t tell us her reaction, and that is not the point of the story. When Jesus exposes our hearts, he doesn’t do it to record our humiliation. He is in it for our sanctification. And yet, as a woman placing myself in Martha’s shoes, I am certainly aware of how she must have felt. The same way I did not too long ago when a sin of mine came to the surface at my table. My sins revealed among the tall water glasses and Ikea plates, salad dressing and bread. Still, I can’t help but notice how Jesus approaches Martha. He calls her name twice. Like a mother who gently rebukes her kids by reassuring them of her unending love for them. Martha, Martha. Only Jesus saw past her behavior straight into her heart. And he loved her anyway. Martha, Martha. In this double name calling, Jesus proclaims his love for her. He loves her too much not to expose her sinful heart. Jesus draws her in by calling her name twice.
Her faith was about to be deepened. The same tremendous public power that heals a whole village has an interest in her distracted heart. Jesus’ focus is not on her brokenness but rather on the sufficiency of his presence in every broken circumstance. To her distracted heart, Jesus responds with himself as the incarnated Word of God, the good portion. When Jesus describes himself as the good portion, he is not only making a religious statement about his deity, but he also reveals his longing to dwell intimately in our hearts. From the thousands of words Jesus could have used to respond to Martha, he chose the one that perfectly satiates spiritual hunger: himself, the good portion. A portion with God is to the soul what fried fish and loaves of bread are to the body. Jesus, the life giving and spirit filled Word of God feeds hungry souls. How appropriate his response is! In her very kitchen, Jesus draws Martha’s heart into himself because he alone can truly satisfy her all. And how my hungry heart loves his response!
For Martha’s sake, Jesus entered her small kitchen. As popular and sought after as Jesus was, He entered this broken woman’s home to draw her heart into Himself. Martha mattered to Jesus because He came to heal the sick and bind broken hearts. Jesus visits Martha’s home to declare that glorious things happen wherever He goes, whether that is on the mount, or in the kitchen; in large towns, or in humble homes. With thousands of people, or with a dozen, or even with one. Wherever Jesus is, God’s glory is also!
Too often I tell myself that my home is not significant enough for glorious things to take place. That my kitchen is too small, or too dirty, too cluttered. That my table is too chipped, too old fashioned. That I am too broken, too distracted. Perhaps you feel like me too. The story of Martha, though, reassures me that in my brokenness His Words are sufficient. As I set the table for dinner tonight, I rest assured that all my inadequacies are met by a self-sufficient Lord of my heart. That my small kitchen is the perfect place for glorious things to happen not because of my strengths. Not even because of my weaknesses. But because, just like in Martha’s kitchen, the Lord Jesus Christ is the guest of honor!