Something white caught my eye. Not surprising, really. Tall windows and a glass paned door give me a clear view of my patio, overrun with plants such as, cacti, haworthias, ferns, hoyas, bromliads, and more. My plants are my babies. I coddle them, feed them, talk to them, and occasionally over water them at times. I chuckle at the thought of their common names, like fairy washboard, Buddha belly, donkey ears, foxtail, and flapjacks. But the splash of white came from none of those; rather, it protruded from the humble peanut cactus, named for its familiar shape. From its prickly body erupted a stunning blossom. Where had that come from and why hadn’t I noticed it before? Its life span was short, and I had missed the process.
“What else have I lost?,” I wondered. A host of things, such as car keys, arguments, passwords, promotions, jewelry, sleep, my toddler (once, temporarily), and sometimes-my mind. At a much deeper level, I have lost friends and loved ones. Perhaps you’re keeping your own list of losses, but on this morning, I had lost the joy of observing this magnificent flower unfold into its glory.
Mary and Martha had welcomed Jesus and his presumed entourage into their home on one occasion described in the gospel of Luke. While we do not know all the particulars, we can imagine Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet being attentive, and Martha bustling about getting everything ready for a meal, with no microwave to help. Challenging, frustrating, lonely work! It is no wonder Martha would plead her case to the only one in the room with authority. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40 NIV).
My mind flips to the times when I too try to do everything myself and resent those who do not. I sheepishly confess that my own motives are often more about how my efforts look than about meeting needs. I think of time wasted on irritability and anxiety, and I question whether my service (career moves, family endeavors?), becomes an end in itself. Ultimately, Jesus would answer all those thoughts in a few tender words: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord 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” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV). Like Martha, we need to look to Jesus for right thinking, and to Mary as well for right doing.
I am Martha, when, in fact, I long to be Mary. Let’s give Martha credit where it’s due though. She did not simmer in her stew of emotions. She asked for what she wanted, and her asking set up a perfect moment for Jesus to teach her, (and us), a vital lesson: Regardless of misdirected motives or self-justifying emotions, If we seek truth from the only one whose truth is life-affirming for everyone, we are set on a surer path. We might even say Jesus gives us a “what matters” test for all of life’s issues, not just hospitality. Thank you, Jesus.
Eugene Peterson’s practical paraphrase of Paul’s words in Romans 12 (your own white blossom), puts a final piece in place,: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”