I was at the home of a very wealthy couple and before we left the party, I thanked them for their hospitality. She said, “People think that we are hospitable because we have a big home and can afford to entertain. We entertained people when we lived in a mobile home and could only serve chips and crackers. Hospitality is not about what you eat, or the size of your house, it’s how you focus on others. Hospitality is not about you, it’s about relationships.”
Simple food would have been good enough for Jesus. He was not a food-driven man. During Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Satan tried to tempt Jesus to call for food. Jesus didn’t bite (sorry for the pun). When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well, the disciples went into town for food. They were astonished that Jesus wasn’t hungry and he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” (John 4:32) Jesus, of course, was not talking about physical food that he had stashed away for such times. Jesus clarified, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Or how could Martha forget that Jesus fed 5000 by multiplying 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. (Matt. 14:13-21) Rather than requesting Mary’s help, may Martha should have implored Jesus to help her in the kitchen. Just saying.
Anxiety is also created through our desire to control. I could be wrong, but I read into this story there was a little control freak in Martha. With my sacred imagination, I see Martha staring at Mary trying to get her attention. Or maybe she’s already talked with her about her womanly duties and the younger sister ignores her. When Martha wasn’t getting the results she wanted, she went to Jesus to make Mary help her.
There are many wonderful lessons in this sacred passage. First, Jesus was very tender with Martha, demonstrated by the fact that he used her name twice. He communicated she was a person of value and worth. People of peace have a calming effect on others. They speak with gentleness and comfort. Rather than raising the level of anxiety and conflict, they diminish it.
Second, Jesus observed and acknowledged Martha’s anxiety. He said, “you are worried and upset about many things.”
Third, Jesus didn’t scold Martha for cooking. He recognized the inconvenience and the work she was doing. He didn’t say the meal was unnecessary or that she should stop cooking. It was not Martha’s service that was wrong, but her attitude. Martha felt that working in the kitchen was the “better thing,” not only for her, but also for Mary.
Fourth, Jesus was kindly saying that Mary chose relationship over activity. What did Jesus mean, “only one thing is needed?” Possibly, Jesus was saying, Mary is doing exactly what she needs to be doing. Don’t worry about Mary or be anxious about the meal. Work your own program. Plantinga describes one of the elements of peace as, “natural gifts fruitfully employed.” Working outside of our giftedness, or not being allowed to use our abilities to their fullest, leads to frustration and low morale. Peace comes when we (and others) recognize and employ our God-given talents and abilities.