Mary and Martha invited Jesus to visit. Martha busied herself, creating an atmosphere of welcome. Maybe she tended the fire as she watched a raisin cake rise. Perhaps she wiped out the earthenware cups, or rechecked the roasted meat that had finished cooking and was now resting on a table. She could have swept the floor one last time and then pulled the wine from a shelf to open it, let it breathe.
Mary, meanwhile, welcomed Jesus and then situated herself near his feet. He talked. She listened.
The story reads the same every time. Next, Martha brings a complaint to Jesus, telling him she is doing all of the serving work herself while Mary does nothing. Jesus calls Martha down. He points to Mary as the one who has chosen better. End scene.
Except today. I heard the voice of Jesus with different ears, saw him interact differently with the women. Today, Jesus didn’t play the part of the one calling Martha down, the one bringing some shame to Martha for making a dumb choice.
I don’t mean to indicate that Jesus speaks shame to people or that he usually does use the word dumb in the Greek. I don’t mean to make Jesus out as a jerk, or a meanie. I mean to say that, for so long in my life, Jesus has had, in my imagination, the general demeanor of the one voice in the story that sets stuff straight, but not in the Shepherd and Prince of Peace way, or even in the King Jesus kind of way. He brings things in order in a stoic, emotionless, director-of-crap-is-messed-up-and-someone-needs-to-come-and-kick-some-butt kind of way.
I am learning that Jesus did indeed live as a man, a human. Concentrated time in the Gospels is breaking apart the industrial strength, plastic encased caricature shell that the Jesus in my mind has been wearing for so long. Too long. I am watching Jesus.
He feels deep emotions, and so sometimes he does bring some order-making, but with passion and even anger. He weeps. He feels compassion, from his gut, in his bowels. He gets tired, thirsty. He introverts. He sees people. He keeps company with the folks on the margins, folks that society of his day designated as dirty, marred, outcast; he took human reputation risks. He wasn’t stoic. Not emotionless. And not vengeful, wrathful, shame-saying.
That plain Jesus, the one who ducks into scenes to drop some truth and then backs out again, the one without much true humanity lest I tarnish his divinity—I liked him. I liked the stomping, stoic shell. Letting that Jesus fill my narratives has brought me comfort in some backward way. Comfort like the knowledge that a school principle kept a school in line with the ominous and famous hand-crafted board paddle with holes drilled in for extra smack and sting, even if he/she hardly used it. That version of Jesus, and God, I suppose, made me feel safe. I think.
I’ve asked to see the real Jesus, asked for all my previous images to be smashed so I can know who it is I am following. It’s an ongoing discovery, a wonder really, a confounding and sometimes confusing experience.
Like today, when Jesus wasn’t harsh to Martha. He wasn’t even corrective. He calmed her. He saw her, looked past her complaint to the worries she carried, the preoccupations that burdened her. He opened her understanding with gentleness, not reprimand. He invited her away from her anxiousness, away from what was robbing her. He called her toward himself.
The story didn’t read the same today. I learned something I didn’t know, hadn’t seen before. I believe I received the invitation away from anxiousness and toward the heart of Jesus.