Here’s how I’d like the story to go:
Martha: lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Jesus: “lads, Simon, Andrew, James, Whatsyername, you lot in the kitchen and make yourselves useful! Martha, why don’t you join us?”
Of course, Martha would have been far too worried about the sons of thunder breaking her best teapot to relax, so maybe that’s why, instead, Jesus shook his head gently and affectionately:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need only of one thing.”
We might guess from his words on other occasions that he is referring to love. Martha’s method of loving is a little stressed and scattered and distracted; but she does love Jesus enough to tear her hair out making hospitality for him. Mary loves him too, in her own way, and that will not be taken from her, any more than Martha’s frenetic love will be changed and channeled until she is too tired to take any more and sinks down next to her sister at Jesus’ feet.
That said, I am reminded of one of the best pieces of parenting advice that I received from the midwife teaching our first-time mothers’ prenatal class; she could have preached this as a sermon this morning; she could have whispered it to Martha:
On a sunny day, when the park is pretty and the baby is awake, it is always ok to leave the washing up for later and go. Do not waste an opportunity to enjoy the day, to enjoy one another, to grow in mutual delight.
The dishes will always wait.