During the hard days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, my grandparents owned a bakery in my home town of Columbus. Since Columbus was on a rail line, and lots of what we then called hobos “rode the rails,” I think it’s safe to assume that there were a lot of hungry men looking for food and jobs around the town.
My dad always said that nearly as fast as my grandfather was baking bread and rolls in the back end of the bakery, my grandmother was handing them out the front door for free to the hungry men who apparently knew where to find a sympathetic friend.
That, my friends, is hospitality.
The story of Mary and Martha has become my least favorite story in the New Testament. It used to be the story of the prodigal son, but over the years, especially after having children and grandchildren of my own, I have come to accept that a parent can forgive almost any failing of their own flesh and blood. Plus, I always remind myself that the story of the prodigal son was simply a parable that Jesus used to illustrate God’s forgiving love for all sinners. Even me, thank goodness.
But the story of Martha and Mary isn’t a parable. Gospel writer St. Luke tells us that Jesus dropped in to see Martha and Mary in what sounds to me like an unexpected visit. I can almost envision Martha frantically looking in her pantry to find something to feed Jesus and the others.
You remember the story. Martha is working diligently to clean up and make something to eat and set the table, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him preach.
And while I understand the moral of the story, I admit that every single time I hear it, I am Team Martha all the way. After all, many hands make light work, as they say. Why couldn’t Jesus and Lazarus discuss the upcoming discus-throwing season while Mary and Martha put together a quick pasta dish. Then they both could have sat and listened.
Not that I’m disagreeing with Jesus, mind you. He was probably sick of people challenging him and not listening to him and rolling their eyes at him by this time in his ministry. Here, finally, was someone who understood the importance of what he was telling them. Mary got it right.
But I’ll bet his stomach was growling.
I guess that what Jesus was saying was that Martha — in her effort to be hospitable — was concentrating more on WHAT she was preparing and HOW it all tasted and looked, instead of concentrating on WHO she was serving. Just like I get distracted by things of this world that aren’t important and forget to turn my life to God.
Having said that, I have to tell you that I came across this painting by a 15th century Spanish painter named Diego Velazquez depicting the scene…..
…..and Martha’s pouting face looks just like mine would look if I was cooking and Bec and Jen were in the other room hanging out with company. It is my sincere hope that the woman behind Martha is telling her, “Get your butt in the other room, and I will fix dinner. You’ll owe me.”
I’m watching for the lightning bolt.