On the third Wednesday of the month I am the intake volunteer at HEART Food Pantry. My job is to be the host for the neighbors who come in to shop that day. I warmly greet them, find them in the computer, ask how they are doing, and listen to them when they tell me. This last Wednesday, we had a little more people than normal and a few less volunteers than normal. Our small waiting room filled up. My broad smile became thinner and thinner.
One young woman with a child had waited for me to get to her for almost an hour. She smiled patiently at me as I kept telling her I will get to you I promise. When it was finally her turn, she spoke little English. She had brought paperwork though of all eight people in her household. She showed me all the long names and birthdays that I would have to type into the computer. I started freaking out a little. It was so much, and I had so much to do. A neighbor waiting in the room saw me flustered and got my attention. Are you related to this woman I asked, sharply? No, I just thought I could help. We speak the same language. No. I am fine.
I wasn’t fine. Have you ever had that paralyzing feeling where you have so much to do, but you can’t figure out what to do first. I had that. While I am fumbling, three new people walk in. With no place to sit they start hovering around my table. This freaked me out even more. In my fake, pleasant voice, that is a little too loud and a weirdly high pitched, I look beyond the young woman sitting in front of me and say I am sorry we are running behind today. You all might have to wait. We got a lot going on and we are doing our best. Maybe, if you could back away from the table.
The one closest said, sure, and moved a few feet over. It is not a big room. The rest smiled and said something pleasant, like that’s okay. One neighbor said, “Honey,you don’t look good. Isn’t his face flushed?” She said to the stranger next to her. She turned back to me. “Breathe, honey, just breathe. You are good. God is good.” Defensively, quickly, sharply, I said, again, I am fine. I smiled thinly. “Okay, okay.” She said. I turned my attention back to the young woman and child in front of me. How I felt in that moment, is how I imagine Martha felt. The host that becomes a little overwhelmed.
Jesus promised his disciples when he sent seventy of them out to local villages just days before, that they would meet people like Martha. A head of the household that would open their doors and invite them in, fix them a meal and find them a place to sleep. They came back excited. Hosts like Martha had welcomed them. Then Jesus goes out and he is reliant on the hospitality of people like Martha,too. The Kingdom of God needs Marthas! The Kingdom of God needs Karls! Servants like us are good!
I identify so much with Martha that it is easy for me to put words and actions onto Martha that Luke doesn’t include. I might have smiled fakely at Jesus and his pack of disciples and said through gritted teeth, “Welcome…you couldn’t have called?” Surely, Martha was only genuinely excited when the doorbell rang. I might have banged pots and pans aggressively trying to guilt my lazy sister into the kitchen to work. Luke doesn’t tell us of one banged pan. We only know that Martha, the host, worked her tail off to make sure her Lord felt at home.
Where Martha goes off the rails is familiar territory for me, too. She tries to make her own way of serving necessary for someone else. She values the gift she is giving more than the gift her sister is giving. She judged Mary, that she was not as good a servant as her. If she were, she would be doing the things she was doing. Rolling up her sleeves and getting the meal on the table. That bread ain’t going to cook itself. Her judgment of Mary was wrongheaded and spoiled her own good gift for her Lord.
This isn’t about a hierarchy. Jesus is not teaching us that one way of serving him is better than the other. Martha’s path and Mary’s path were not the same, their gifts were not the same, their way of honoring, serving were never going to be the same. Neither was better. Mary, sitting like a male disciple, in front of the Lord, listening, likely asking questions, learning, growing, preparing for her own ministry of love in God’s name, was exactly where Jesus needed her. Mary’s studying like a disciple breaks cultural barriers. Through Mary, we know that in the Kingdom of God there is no male nor female. We need Mary! Her gift was great! Alleluia!
Martha’s judgement of Mary spoiled Matha’s good gift. Listeners of this story are stunned by Martha words spoken in frustration to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care…” Mary was not the only one Martha had judged, who had come under her scrutiny. Her Lord, the one she had sacrificed and sweated for all of those hours before had come under her judgment, too. “Lord, don’t you care…” was a crazy insult to come out of a host’s mouth in Jesus’ day. This is never how a guest is treated, then or now. It sounds just as blasphemous today. “Lord, don’t you care…”
Jesus responds with love. “Martha, Martha.” The double call of her name is a clear sign of endearment. “Breathe, honey, just breathe. You are good. God is good.” Martha thought she was the host that day. Jesus came to her door and she had a gift to give and she gave it. But when that good gift goes off the rails, she needed Jesus to assure her she was enough. “Martha, Martha” Even when we are serving Jesus, Jesus is serving us.
“Breathe, honey, just breathe. You are good. God is good.” Before a work day begins at HEART, the volunteers gather and pray. I always pray that we see Jesus in the neighbors that day. When the woman told me to breathe, my anxiousness, my worry, my distraction, wouldn’t allow me to see Jesus in her. I felt like she was being critical. Telling me to calm down. Embarrassing me. Calling me out that I was losing control of the situation. I was doing all of this for her after all…”Karl, Karl, breathe honey.” An answered prayer. Jesus had shown up to tell me I am enough. My gift is enough.
This morning for our worship, we have so many gifts being given. Gifts of welcome at the door, etc…We are all hosts of Jesus who promises to come. Our prayer is the prayer from HEART, Lord help us see Jesus in all the neighbors we encounter. This story, my story, reminds me of the tradition in the church to call the bread of communion, the presence of Christ, the host. Even as we serve and host, Jesus is the host, always. We serve him. And he serves us. His gift is always grace filled love. So if you are anxious and distracted this morning like Martha, maybe close to spoiling your good gift, hear Jesus. “Breathe, honey, just breathe. You are good. God is good.”