Martha, Martha, Martha
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
In one episode of the "Brady Bunch," middle sister Jan gets fed up with center-of-attention oldest sister Marsha. "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" Jan cries in vexation. She can't take it anymore.
Today, I can't remember what specifically precipitated Jan's frustration. Nor can I recall how the problem was wrapped up tidily in 30 minutes and tied with the typical sitcom bow. What I do remember, however, is Jan's tone: total exasperation. And thanks to the similarity in the sound of the names (Marsha and Martha), for years this same exasperation echoed through my mind every time I read the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible.
Martha, at least in my opinion, was just trying to be a good hostess. Jesus had come over, and she wanted things to be just so, I'm sure. So, while sister Mary sat listening to Jesus speak, Martha was sweating it out alone. At last, overwhelmed, she interrupted to ask why Mary couldn't make herself useful.
Jesus' response never sat well with me. "Martha, Martha," he replied, "thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41, 42).
I could hear his tone: exasperated, admonitory, maybe even a little frustrated. And I didn't get it. Martha just wanted some help hostessing. Was it so much to ask that Mary pitch in?
A friend once told me that she loves the Christ, which Mary Baker Eddy defined as "the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 332). My friend said she feels this way because Christ always helps her get back on track. "It's that pure message of love that coaxes, 'Come over here,' just when you feel you're stuck in the corner," she told me. I loved the notion of that gentle beckoning, of a love so persuasive that you can't help following its leadings toward a broader concept of God and your relationship with Him.
And that's what dawned on me as I dug into the Mary and Martha story again recently - that Jesus' "Martha, Martha," wasn't an expression of exasperation. It wasn't even a criticism of her efforts. Rather, it was that tender coaxing of the Christ, encouraging her, as I saw it, to change her approach. To examine the mentality behind her actions.
The Bible describes Martha as being "cumbered about much serving." Not just busy, but cumbered. And that, as I saw it now, was the point. "That good part," which Mary chose, wasn't about sitting on the sidelines while Martha slaved. It was about a willingness to live a Christ-directed life, to follow divine Love's leadings, rather than getting caught up in the minutiae.
Jesus' "Martha, Martha," was about the how of Martha's task, not the what - a how that translates into the thought one brings to any situation. What the story said to me is this: that regardless of the task, the Christ's message is always there - speaking of grace, strength, anything we need to get the job done.
In the weeks following this newly gained perspective, I've found a sort of moment-by-moment proof of the timelessness of Jesus' message to Martha. Evidence that choosing to focus on the qualities we're expressing rather than getting bogged down by the particulars can make any effort a labor of love.
Dreading a tedious project, for instance, I sat down to it only to hear a gentle "Martha, Martha" in my thought. I remembered the story. I asked myself, What attributes of God can I express as I complete this? Dozens flooded to mind: precision, intelligence, enthusiasm, beauty. And as I embraced those qualities - really put them into practice - the project, like a number of tasks I'd complete later with the same Christ-focus, became a spiritual adventure, a delight.
Ultimately, the story of Mary and Martha showed me that it's not too much to ask that we enjoy whatever it is we're called upon to do. In fact, we can expect enjoyment because we can count on the Christ to lift us up. Thoughts of tedium and drudgery naturally give place to thoughts of gratitude for the work, even an enthusiasm for it. Because the Christ's message of "Martha, Martha," or, "your name here, your name here," reveals the spiritual adventure element in each facet of our lives.