The sun creeps over the hill, heralding the beginning of a new day and Martha already feels behind…
“They’ll be here before we know it! Deborah, tell Benjamin to bring in the lamb I picked out yesterday. And this time, make sure he prepares it properly, last time he made an absolute mess in the garden. Tell him to take it where we prepare the cattle and stand uphill.”
“Oh, and use the pit on the west, the one on the east side hasn’t been cleaned yet and this way the smoke won’t blow through the house.”
Martha’s headdress could hardly contain her hair, which threatened to tumble out the sides for the third time this morning. Of course, there was no fixing it today, not with guests already on the approach. One hand was steadily kneading the dough at her fingertips, while the other stuffed what hair she could back into place, leaving trails of flour along her cheeks.
“Rachel, come knead this while I find out why Mary has decided to disappear again, I told her I really needed her help today. And make sure you don’t knead the dough too quickly, the bread comes out dry when you do that.”
Martha was used to doing everything herself, but today she really needed her sister. Frustration mounted as she yanked a towel from its rung to wipe the flour and sweat from her face. The internal conversation she was having with her sister only made her more flustered as she stormed out to find Mary.
In the garden, Mary picked fresh herbs and spices. Seeing her sister coming from the kitchen made her smile…until she heard Martha bellow her name.
Oh dear, it’s going to be one of those days. She thinks she’s being focused and determined…but she just comes off like she’s in a foul mood.
“Martha, I was just picking herbs and spices so we would have fresh ones for the lamb and bread. I know how you like to make everything fresh for Him.”
“Oh. Good.” she stammered, almost tripping as Mary’s words stopped her in her tracks, “Did you bring the water from the well yet? We can’t have the Teacher eat without giving Him fresh water for washing.”
“No, but Deborah was heading to the well after she gives your instructions to Benjamin. If you take these inside, I can go help her draw the water.”
“Don’t bother, Deborah can take care of the water herself, I need you in the kitchen to help Rachel. Use the cardamom and nutmeg for the bread. The lamb needs cumin and turmeric, but mix it with olive oil first or it won’t coat the lamb well.”
Tilting her head and giving her sister a little pout, “Martha. I know how to cook. You taught me, remember.”
“Sorry. I just want everything to be perfect for Him.”
“I know you do sister. You are amazing when it comes to playing hostess. I’ll go help Rachel with the bread. Where are you heading?”
“I want to make sure Benjamin is preparing the lamb correctly. I picked it out yesterday and put it in the side pen, then I need to make sure we have enough figs and check on the dates in town, we don’t have enough here. We don’t have any more flour, so make sure the bread comes out moist and-”
“I know, I know. You had better get going if you want to check on Benjamin and still get into town and back before He arrives.”
Without another word, Martha dashed away with determination in every step.
Mary skipped back to the kitchen taking in deep breaths, filling her nostrils with the delicious scent of the fresh herbs and spices in her basket. The little things of life bringing her joy. Once inside she gave Rachel a little peck on the cheek as she separated her goodies.
“Your sister is in rare form today Mary.”
“You know how she gets Rachel. Martha wants everything just so when guests arrive; it’s a gift.”
“More like a curse.”
“Rachel, be nice. Martha loves having guests. Do you want me to take over kneading or do you want me to grind the herbs?”
“I’m about done with the bread, it will need to rise before we can add the herbs, but my hands could use the break. I know how she is with guests, but this is different. Who is this Teacher?”
“Come now Rachel,” Deborah sweeps into the kitchen carrying a basket of freshly picked figs, “Jesus isn’t just a teacher. I heard that He fed thousands over in Bethsaida with only a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread!”
“I think you’ve been in the sun too long. No one could feed a crowd that big with that, not even Martha!”
The laughter was a welcomed break to their otherwise rushed morning.
“No, really Rachel. They counted over 4,000 and that only includes the men! Just think about how many it would be if they counted the women and children. Benjamin said that his friend Daniel heard about this Jesus driving out a demon from a boy. He spoke and the demon left,” Deborah began washing the figs, helping herself to a few as she went along, discarding any that were less than perfect; hoping Martha would notice the care she put into choosing.
The morning passed quickly as they shared other rumors and stories of this Teacher who was coming with His followers. A house full of hungry men would be descending any moment and there was little time for idle hands. Rugs were taken outside and the dust beaten out…a challenging task in this dessert region. Lounging cushions were fluffed…and fluffed again. The scent of a perfectly seasoned lamb roasting on the spit, along with freshly baked bread filled every corner of the sisters’ home.
“They have arrived…and they’re early! I can see them coming over the hill!” Martha rushed to fix her hair for the umpteenth time.
“Of course they could also be bandits up to no good,” a mischievous smile spread over Mary’s face. She loved her sister dearly, but sometimes she wished Martha would enjoy life more and relax. Martha always seemed tired, even after resting.
“Not. Funny. Mary,” an exasperated sigh escaping her lips, her hair was not going to play nice with her today, of all days, “I was hoping we would have another hour at least!”
“What else needs to be done Martha?”
“For goodness sake, don’t play dumb Mary. The lamb isn’t ready, the dates have to be washed still, there’s no way we have enough bread for that crowd, I wasn’t expecting so many! Which means another trip into town. The other rooms haven’t been tidied, what if they stay the night? We can’t very well have the Teacher walking to…wherever He is going, in the dark!”
Tucking the final few strands of hair back into her sister’s headdress, “Martha, it’ll be alright. Let’s start by walking over and saying hello. We can take care of the details once we get them settled in the courtyard.”
Before her sister could argue, Mary linked their arms and pulled Martha off to greet Him.
“Teacher! We are blessed by Your presence, please, come in, You and Your followers, take Your rest. My dear sister Martha has planned a delicious meal made in the honor of Your arrival! The lamb should be ready within the hour and we have ripe figs, fresh bread, and new wine to tide us over until then. We hope you will not leave before the morning.”
Cool water was provided for washing, a welcomed refreshment for their tired feet. Martha and Mary then lead their guests into the place prepared for them. Mary sat with their guests, shortly thereafter, Rachel and Deborah joined her as well while Benjamin finished with the lamb. All enjoyed the fruits of the day’s labor. An uncommon peace filled their hearts as they listened to this Teacher. A strange, almost foreign feeling, as if nothing else in the entire world mattered except for what was happening in this little room. With so many, the room should have felt cramped, but instead everything seemed perfectly comfortable and cozy. Mary noticed her sister was not with them, but couldn’t bring herself to seek her out, she simply couldn’t miss one word from Jesus.
Meanwhile, Martha busied herself in one of the side rooms preparing it as a place for the men to sleep.
I can’t believe my sister and the others aren’t helping me with this. It’s not fair. Here I am making sure everything is perfect for Him and they get to sit around enjoying MY guests! I could be in there too, eating, drinking, and laughing if someone would just help me finish this work! But no!
Making each task louder than usual…Martha secretly hoped her sister would hear and come to help her. Anger continued to rise in her heart, bitterness taking root as each moment passed without her sister’s arrival. She could stand it no longer. There were so many things still needing to be done and she would have her sister’s help! Even if that meant embarrassing her sister in front of her guests. Throwing down the pillow in her hands, she stormed down the hall.
Taking in a deep breath and throwing on a smile, she rounded the corner to the view of her guests and lazy sister.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” After all it’s only fair! Please Lord! I’m so tired and I want to join everyone, but I can’t until this work is done! I want everything to be perfect for You.
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Sweet child, the guests have arrived, I have arrived. The dust in the corner does not concern Me…it’s the dust in your heart. The place reserved for Me, yet never used. You are weary and burdened, stop what you are doing, come sit with Me, and I will give you the rest you so long for in your hurried life.
I always try to imagine what Martha did next. Did the bitterness and anger melt away in His presence and did she finally allow the peace that rested on everyone else to rest on her? …Or did her pride make her turn away and return to her work, even though her heart longed to sit with Him?