Picking Your Portion When There’s No Chinese Takeout – Luke 10
Take a moment to picture this scenario: you’ve had a long day, juggling work responsibilities, caring for your family, making dinner, and cleaning up the kitchen. After everyone is in bed, you finally sit down to drink a cup of tea and read a few pages of your book before going to bed so you can do it all again tomorrow.
Just as your eyes are getting heavy, you hear a knock at the door. Who could that be at this time of night? you wonder. When you open the door, you’re surprised to see a friend who’s on a road trip with twelve of his buddies. They were just passing through and figured they’d stop by.
“We haven’t had a real meal in days,” one of the friends says, eyeing your refrigerator longingly.
Your mind instantly goes into inventory mode, sizing up what’s in your pantry. Will you be able to scrounge something together for a dozen hungry men? It’s too late to order a pizza or get Chinese takeout, and you can hardly send your guests to the drive-through. And so, since you love your friend, you roll up your sleeves and get to work on dinner.
The details vary and there are thousands of years between us, but Martha’s dilemma isn’t so different from what we face as women today. The Gospel of Luke tucks this rather surprising domestic tale in with the accounts of parables and wonders and miracles”
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:38-40)
When I heard the story of Mary and Martha as I was a kid in Sunday school, the situation seemed comfortably black and white to me. Mary had it right: forget about little details like dinner; just sit at Jesus’ feet. Don’t be like Martha, stressed and obsessed over less important things.
Then I got my own home, my own kitchen, my own houseguests, and suddenly I felt sorry for Martha. Not only did she have thirteen unexpected guests to cook for, but she also had none of the modern conveniences we have today. No microwave, no Wonder Bread, no Big Macs. She had to knead all the bread by hand, cook the lentils over an open fire, and draw the water from the community well. In her case, dinner wasn’t a minor detail; it was a mammoth undertaking.
But perhaps the biggest reason my sympathy goes out to Martha is because her instincts were partly on track. Her impulse to feed and love and serve and provide community was a good one. So perhaps this story isn’t necessarily saying that Martha should have hung up her apron and scrapped dinner altogether.
Just one chapter earlier, Luke recounts one of Jesus’ most stunning miracles—the feeding of the five thousand (see Luke 9). This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles recorded in all four Gospels, and there’s no doubt it was talked about by people all around the region. Scripture doesn’t say this explicitly, but since so many people witnessed the miracle and since Mary and Martha were good friends with Jesus, it seems likely that Mary and Martha would have gotten wind of this food multiplication miracle. But that’s not on Martha’s mind in this story:
[Martha] came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)
I have to wonder: what if, when Martha was worried about so many things, she’d remembered who was in her home? What if she’d recalled that her friend Jesus was the one with the power to turn water into wine, the ability to transform five measly loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands? What if, instead of fretting over the stove, she’d walked straight to Jesus and said, “Lord, I need help”?
I don’t know what would have happened if Martha had done so. Maybe he would have broken the little bread she had and stretched it to feed the crowd so she could sit at his feet too. Or maybe he would have whispered something in her ear that would give her the perspective she needed to serve with joy while listening from the kitchen.
I’ve never had a dozen people show up at my house for dinner without calling first. But I do know what it’s like to feel like I’m in over in my head. My initial reaction in such situations is to feel bitter that I’m drowning over here, doing all this by myself, or to blame someone else for not helping me. But all too often I forget to approach the one who actually has the power to help me. What’s a dinner party, after all, to the God of the universe?
Scripture doesn’t give us an epilogue to this story—we don’t know how Martha responded to Jesus’ words. But I like to think she learned something about picking her portion that day. Perhaps she didn’t quit cooking or preparing for houseguests, but maybe in the future, she did so mindful of the God she was serving. And maybe next time, instead of stewing in the kitchen, she asked him for help.
image used with permission – Kelli Campbell
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Her.meneutics, Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie’s blog, “Stubbing My Toe on Grace,” at StephanieRische.com.