Jesus and his disciples were invited to Martha’s house for dinner.
Martha was toiling away in the kitchen by herself while everyone else, including her sister Mary, was in the living room huddled around a fascinating rabbi named Jesus, a man some were calling the Son of God. Stressed out and frustrated, Martha finally marched into the living room and interrupted the conversation.
“Rabbi, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work in the kitchen by myself? Tell her to help me!” she blurted out.
Jesus, being full of compassion and the Spirit, looked at her and said, “Martha, I will help you in the kitchen.”
It’s a nice story. It’s what you’d expect from a servant leader like Jesus. Most Christians would do the same if someone they knew was voicing a legitimate complaint and genuine need. We seem naturally wired to do whatever we can to correct an obviously unfair situation. After all, that’s what Jesus would do. Right?
Of course, those familiar with the story in Luke 10:38-42 know this isn’t what Jesus did. What he did was astonishing. He gently rebuked Martha, the one sacrificially preparing a meal for him and the rest of the group, saying, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing” (MSG translation).
Worked up over nothing! Wow. What was Jesus thinking?
In a nutshell, Jesus knew Martha was reacting to illusions (nothing real) because she was in a state of disharmony with God, truth and her own soul. Jesus had incredible insight into people’s inner beings. He knew when someone was being controlled by his or her ego, painbody or false self. Here are some cursory definitions if you’re unfamiliar with those terms:
- Ego is a state of mind that wants to be central, important and separate from everyone else.
- Painbody is an energetic entity within you, made up of old pain you’ve accumulated and not fully dealt with. It feeds on pain, and thus misinterprets experiences and situations as being painful, so it can feed on new pain and thrive. When you’re “triggered,” your painbody is likely taking over.
- False self is the self you present to others and sometimes yourself. This is the self you want to be, think you ought to be or sometimes believe you are.
Another rudimentary way of understanding ego, painbody and false self is to combine them into one overarching term, what Paul calls the “flesh.” We operate from the “flesh” whenever we value and desire anything more than God, our connection with God and our spiritual growth.
For example, sometimes when someone is driving very slowly in front of me and I’m in a big hurry, I get triggered. I start reacting to illusions. Irrational thoughts begin swirling around my head, such as, “Is this person intentionally driving slowly to annoy me?” or, “This person shouldn’t have a licence! Seriously, what kind of maniac drives the speed limit!”
However, when I’m in the same situation but in the Spirit, I become aware of the frustration growing within me and I pray, realizing this is an opportunity to grow spiritually, and to practise patience, self-control and compassion. I respond to the exact same situation differently because when I’m in the Spirit I value God, my connection with God and my spiritual growth more than everything else, including getting where I need to be on time.
When we’re triggered, we’re in “the flesh” and almost always reacting to illusions. We’re getting worked up over nothing.
Jesus never responds to “the flesh.” He always addresses the true self. And if the person’s “flesh” barrier is impenetrable, he simply doesn’t engage. Jesus knows that responding to the “flesh” never helps. It only reinforces and strengthens that person’s illusions and bondage.
Jesus focusses on long-term needs, not immediate gratification. Jesus isn’t concerned with what will make Martha’s afternoon easier, as much as her holistic well-being over the long haul. Jesus sees Martha’s current trajectory, not only her current situation. He sees the probability of health issues and damaged relationships with everyone she’s close to if she continues reacting to stress in unhealthy ways. Martha’s situation might not be fair but it’s an opportunity for her to experience healing and freedom.
Something I’ve learned over time is that Jesus rarely corrects, changes or fixes unfair, painful or difficult situations when that unfair, difficult or painful situation is best utilized as a tool or opportunity for transformation.
Troy Watson is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.
For another reflection on Mary and Martha, see Troy’s column “Only one thing is essential.”