I cannot begin to count how many sermons, teachings, and studies I have heard on the Martha and Mary saga that Luke records for us in chapter ten.
Let’s pull back the curtains and see what was going on with Martha and perhaps gain some new insights. We will be covering verses 38-42.
The scene opens with Martha welcoming Jesus and His crew. Martha wanted Jesus in her home and in her life. Her heart’s intent was to spend her energy and time on serving Jesus. We see in this passage and others that she wanted a relationship with Him. And Jesus wanted one with her.
Martha, was most likely the first-born and head of the household. So, she bore the responsibility in and of the home. Meaning, she was carrying a lot and, per Luke, serving a lot! In verse 40, we get our first clue into Martha’s state of mind - "distracted."
The Greek word is perispao and means “to draw different ways at the same time; hence, to distract with cares and responsibilities.”
It's that feeling of being pulled in so many directions and the felt need to carry it all and carry it well! Sound familiar? Perhaps, you have lots of things to care about and a plate filled with responsibilities.
In modern day vernacular we would say that Martha was driven to distraction.
Distraction in the sense that she could not focus. Her mind was on everything but Jesus, the one she was supposedly doing all this for. And, driven to distraction in the sense that she was annoyed to the point of utter frustration.
Martha was preoccupied and growing increasingly irritated! The synonym of the word, distraction, is anxious. Which is exactly what Jesus tells Martha she is in verse 41.
We don’t know exactly what Martha was anxious about, but we can make some good guesses.
"So much to do, so little time!"
"Everything must be just right."
"Does everyone have what they need?"
"Is everyone happy?"
"Is this good enough?"
"Am I good enough?"
“If I don’t get this done, then it won’t get done."
“If you want something done right, then you better do it yourself.”
If you have felt the responsibility for carrying your already big load and perhaps everyone else’s load on top of that, then you know how Martha was feeling!
You may feel this weight on a regular basis. And it drives you crazy that others don’t seem to feel that same urgency or level of care.
To make matters worse, her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping her… “If you are not helping me, then you are hindering me!"
I can relate to Martha in the sense of taking on responsibility in a burdened and anxious way, but it is not my default or my personality struggle. It is that of my husband, however. He gets Martha at a deeper level than I can.
I have spent the past few decades watching my husband battle with that heavy burden of ‘cares and responsibilities’… the weight of the world on his shoulders. And I have seen him struggle to let it go.
Perhaps it is your battle as well?
Or the constant battle of someone you love, work under or serve with?
And please see it as that… a battle. A battle to unburden oneself from the constant pressure that responsibility can bring. Like a wave that is constantly crashing into you and brings distraction, worry, frustration, fatigue, and eventually burn-out, resentment, and anger.
Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me those who labor and are heavy-laden." He uses two powerful words to describe the condition.
"Labor" is in the active voice meaning we are wearing ourselves out. The result is being "heavy-laden." Heavy-laden means to overload or heavily burden with cargo; baggage.
I get a picture in my mind of a bell-hop getting piled up with bag after bag and carrying all that up ten flights of stairs, only to get to their destination and be slipped a mere buck after all that hard labor. Seems unfair doesn’t it?!?
This is where Martha is at. How do we know? Both Luke and Jesus see it and say it.
The King James Version uses the word "cumbered" instead of distraction, which means to be burdened or weighed down.
Martha was piled high with her bags and took on everyone else’s bags as well. But, it is of her own volition. Jesus isn’t putting that on her, she is putting it on herself.
Jesus said His burden (yoke) is a knapsack… not a military grade, stuffed to the gills, heavy and weighted down mule-pack!
So why is Martha taking on all of this? We don’t know and we are not told why.
But she is human, and like us, she may have had some of the same hang-ups (ego issues) we deal with.
Is it that she has to get everything right and do everything well so she feels worthy?
Is she giving love in hopes of getting it back?
Is it a matter of putting forth a good and polished image?
Is she worried what people will think of her if she isn’t serving or meeting other's needs?
Is she hoping to be recognized or admired?
We don’t know. But, Scripture makes it super clear that she was coming from a not-so-good place in that moment. She is reaching her boiling point and about to go off.
So to simply tell anyone who understands Martha at a deeper level to simply just stop and… I don’t know… maybe try being less responsible is insulting and frankly, missing the point.
I have often heard this passage taught as a comparison between two people. But, Jesus is not stating, “Martha, why can’t you be more like your sister Mary?”
This isn't a comparison between two people, it's a comparison between two choices.
Jesus didn’t tell Martha that Mary was better… but what she chose was better.
Jesus isn’t telling Martha to stop being herself and be Mary. But, those that can relate to Martha may feel that is what is being said. As if Jesus is telling Martha to stop being who she is.
Mary isn’t Martha’s standard and Mary isn’t our standard, as if we are going to somehow “arrive”… and that arrival point is Mary. Jesus created Martha to be Martha… but a free Martha, not a burdened Martha.
It’s the invitation to rest that He gives to us all, no matter who we are and no matter what we are doing. It is much harder for some to enter into that and stay there than for others.
The antonym to the word "distracted" is to "neglect". That may be exactly how it feels to lay that burden aside... “I’m neglecting my responsibility.” Responsibility, by the way, that Martha took on herself and we can as well.
That’s a very heavy burden to carry. The type of burden most don’t want to carry but feel they have no choice. “Why am I having to carry all of this?”
Jesus comes along and asks… “Why are you carrying all this?”
Perhaps Martha didn’t know she didn’t have to or that she was even carrying something to begin with. Her burden wasn’t her activity or anything from the outside… it was what was happening on the inside. It was her own pressure on herself... some standard she was aiming for and whatever deep need she was attempting to fill.
Ask yourself if you are feeling burdened by serving others. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling irritated and annoyed? Are you feeling the tension rise and the need to do something about it? Do you feel like you have no choice? Do you feel like no one is helping you, not even God? Are you wanting to escape or throw all of it off?
Perhaps, in ministry or life, you are burnt-out. You are ready to throw in the towel and just be done. You have carried your load and the load of others and the weight of it has become unbearable.
Martha gets it.
And so does Jesus.
He gives you permission to make new choices, to unburden yourself from that heavy weight and move about in life much lighter (Mt. 11:30).
Join me next time for Martha, Martha when the fireworks begin!