Mary & Martha

March 11, 2009

Here’s a little bit of the piece I’m working on currently for my writing lab.

Vermeer Christ in the House of Mary and MarthaI love the story in the book of Luke where Jesus comes to stay with Mary and Martha. Lazarus is there, I always imagine, sitting near his friend and playing the host while his sisters ready the guest room and prepare the evening meal. I often wonder what he thought when his sister Mary put down her laundry basket, entered the room quietly, and sat at Jesus’ feet. But Luke allows us a glimpse only into Martha’s inner world as she breaks into the conversation in a fit of frustration and demands from Jesus what she feels she deserves: “Tell my sister to help me!” She was only asking for what she felt was right. She was only requiring of others what she was also willing to sacrifice. I always identified with Martha, the oldest child, the helper who finds her worth in performing, in conforming. Martha was a doer, and so am I. Now that I think about it, I bet Martha was right-handed.

There are days when I set out to complete a task, to fulfill an obligation, to meet someone else’s expectations that I feel every bit of my left-handedness weighing me down, holding me back. Being left-handed is my weakness, my inability to fit the round peg that I am into the square hole of the world. Or maybe I’m the square, and my corners are too sharp and awkward to slide across the smoothness of the world’s curve. Lefties are the gangly, uncoordinated adolescents that society passes over when choosing teams in kickball. Lefties are the benchwarmers, the underdogs—but doesn’t everyone love to see the underdogs win? Isn’t it in the very nature of the right-brained person to turn her weakness into some undiscovered strength?

That’s what I am learning, as I sit in the waning afternoon sunlight, watchingsoy candle my soy candle burn into dusk. I’m learning to embrace my sharp corners with my uncoordinated limbs and wait, and wait and wait. I have tried to be Martha too long, the active, capable, do-everything-er who always plays by the rules and never once steps out of place. Now I wonder if Mary isn’t a more likeminded role model. Did Mary like washing dishes, I wonder. Was she as careful at folding the laundry or sweeping the steps as her sister expected? Maybe she wasn’t that good at housework. Maybe Mary’s sharp corners grated on Martha’s round world. How long did Mary wait for the right moment to enter that room, when her brother was sufficiently enraptured in Jesus’ voice and her sister engaged with the servants? Did her heart beat and her palms sweat with anticipation? Did she know, when Martha barged into the room, what Jesus’ response would be?

I think she did. I am learning to wait in the darkness with just that anticipation, with only my candle for light. I am learning to sit as Mary once did, at the feet of Jesus. When Martha complains in front of Lazarus and their guests, Mary never even flinches. It is Jesus who rises to her defense; suddenly, Mary’s inadequacy as a be-er in a doer’s world—suddenly her apparent failure—is transformed into the “better part.” Suddenly, Mary’s weakness becomes her strength.