At a family Thanksgiving meal, two women got into a heated argument over the Turkey gravy. One matriarch, a purist, wanted to use only the meat juices to make the flavorful brown liquor, which meant there would be less volume of gravy. The other matriarch, wanted to add chicken bouillon, so that it would make more gravy, complaining she didn’t get any gravy last year because they ran out. The heat in the kitchen was just coming from the ovens. It got intense. It was Martha Stewart against Paula Dean. There were committee meetings going on behind closed doors. Meal preparations can create worry and anxiety, leading to conflict and anger.
Luke described a similar conflict that arose among two of Jesus’ favorite people. Jesus and the disciples were “on their way” and came to the town of Bethany, where his supporters, Mary and Martha, lived. [Read the full story at Luke 10:38-42.] Martha, the lady of the house, graciously opened her home and was busy preparing a meal for her guests, while her younger sister, Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to his teaching. Martha became agitated at Mary’s lack of help and called on Jesus to make Mary assist her in the preparations. Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was worried, anxious, and distracted. Many of us identify with Martha. There are many things to be done when you are entertaining guests. She was overwhelmed with the responsibility of having to not only feed Jesus, but also the large entourage that followed him.
What creates anxiety? To name just a few possibilities, anxiety is caused by an overwhelming workload, fear of the future, fear of what others will think of us or our work, fear of disappointing others, or fear we won’t live up to others’ expectations. Anxiety can also be caused by a desire to be significant and valued or by regretting things we’ve done in the past.
Martha could be experiencing anxiety from any number of these fears. She had a large crowd drop in on her unexpectedly. Being the good host, she wanted to make their stay comfortable and enjoyable. She didn’t want to disappoint Jesus and probably desired his recognition and love. She may have been concerned for her family’s reputation in the community. Martha is not only upset with Mary; she’s upset with Jesus. Her inner turmoil resulted in an explosion of anger.
Anxiety can be caused by the fear we are not living up to others’ expectations. We can be anxious that our work won’t measure up to our bosses’ or colleagues’ expectations. We fear we will let them down. This fear is often from our own insecurities rather than reality. Martha probably wanted to please Jesus and his disciples. This type of fear often causes us to go over the top in our work. Ninety percent is not good enough. We think we have to give 120 percent. The adage “If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is not always true. Some things worth doing are simply worth doing. Period. They don’t have to be done well. Given the time, money, and costs to relationships, a meal doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal. A simple routine task doesn’t have to be world class. It’s just worth doing.
Anxiety is created by our perception that our standing in our community will be negatively impacted. In a small town, word travels fast. By the end of the day, probably everyone and their dog knew every dish Martha fixed for Jesus and his disciples. She may have perceived her family’s reputation was on the line. Her anxiety may have been caused in part by Mary sitting at Jesus feet. In that culture, women were not valued for their intellectual abilities. Women were viewed as no smarter than camels. They were valued for their domestic skills, but not learning. Ordinarily, women would not have been allowed to sit at the feet of a male teacher. Possibly Martha is worried that Mary’s worship of our Lord would be misconstrued by others in the community as inappropriate. Martha asked Jesus to make Mary perform the culturally expected role in the kitchen. Jesus’ words, “Mary has chosen what is better,” clearly demonstrated that both males and females are called to discipleship.
Pride causes anxiety. Jesus said, “You are worried and upset about many things.” I imagine Martha was pulling out all the stops, using her best recipes. Maybe the meal had become far more elaborate than what was needed. I’ve been there and done that. We want others to notice our culinary skills. In an effort to make everything perfect, our pride creates frustration, worry, and anxiety. Martha’s hospitality distracted her from enjoying God’s presence. Sometimes we can become so busy in ministering to others, that we lose sight of the reason we serve.