The story of Martha and Mary found in Luke, Chapter 10 is always an interesting one to think about. I, for one, used to sympathize with Martha, but Christ says that Mary chose the better part. Hmmmmm. . . .
But Martha, like Cain, fell into a complete anti-God state of mind. That’s strong stuff, but appears to be true. To see this, let’s take a look at another story, this one from Genesis. Genesis, Chapter 4 tells us of the story of Cain and Abel:
1 Adam[a] made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.[b] She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth[c] a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
The parallel to Martha and Mary are immediately apparent. Like Cain and Abel, both Martha and Mary made a offering to God. Like Cain and Abel, the Lord was pleased with one offering and not as pleased (or not pleased) with the other offering. Like Cain and Abel, the person who made the rejected offering killed the one who made the favored offering. (Martha’s anger and impatience toward Mary subject her to Cain’s judgment.)
Stepping back from the literal, in each case we begin with what appears to be a just relationship. Cain and Abel are brothers; Martha and Mary are sisters. Then they are called upon to make an offering. The goal of the offering should be to please God. But what was Cain’s goal? Cain’s goal was to please God more than his brother. Cain’s focus was on himself and on beating his brother rather than on God. Cain removed God from his mind. This opened him up to every other sin and ultimately murder. Sin was, indeed, crouching at Cain’s door, ready to devour him. Because Cain did not master it, it did devour him.
Martha was the same. Martha offered Christ things — a well-prepared table, relaxation, physical comfort. Mary offered a pure self-sacrifice. Mary offered full attention; Martha divided her attention. Martha thought it was all about Jesus, but when Mary did not help — did not join in Martha’s divided and diluted sacrifice, Martha complained — just like Cain. There is no doubt that she wanted to please Jesus, but only on her own terms. The fact that Jesus was pleased with Mary’s offering should have pleased Martha; it didn’t — Martha demanded that Christ reject Mary’s self-sacrifice and the merit that it involved. Martha’s view was simply, ‘if I can’t please Christ the best, then no one will.’ The same rupturing of the previously healthy relationship that we saw between Cain and Abel, we see here.
The sin, of course, is pride. The great Spanish Master, Diego de Velazquez, captured it (along with Satan crouching) visually:
and C.S. Lewis captured it in writing in Mere Christianity:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
. . . .
It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.
Martha and Cain fell into this sin. Their responses, though, differed. Cain complained about his punishment and perished (even though the Lord still loved and protected him.) Although St. Luke does not tell us, it appears certain that Martha repented and was saved.
Sources: Martha and Mary Images (this is a very interesting site; it’s worth visiting).
Filed under: Luke | Tagged: Abel, C.S. Lewis, Cain, Genesis, Jesus, Luke, Marha, Mary | Leave a comment »