On Christmas Day I planned to have the food prep done by late morning and time to straighten up the house before everyone came. My elder son showed up with a friend much earlier than expected. The bathroom wasn't cleaned yet, the carpet wasn't vacuumed, and the mess on the window seat was still there. My son didn't seem to mind.
I don't get to see my son often, so something in me was saying that I should resolutely jettison my plans and sit with them. I knew my housecleaning was a sickness when I saw myself cross the room just to pick up a piece of lint on the floor.
"Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person . . . there is no end to all his toil, and . . . he never asks, 'For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure . . . ?'" (Ecclesiastes 4:8)
What futility to never ask myself: "For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of precious fellowship?" Is it for my children? Hardly. It is my private idols that I am placating. It is a kind of servitude I am caught in. I am supposedly tidying the house for the sake of my family, but it is precisely my family that I am robbing.
While in this state of mind, I remembered Martha of Bethany, that other compulsive tidier. And she suddenly looked different to me when the view was from inside her mind than she had looked when I read her on the page of Luke's gospel. In the written narrative, Martha's choices had seemed merely mildly misguided. But in the moments that I was inhabiting the role myself, I perceived that this was far less innocent a matter. Martha's distractedness was not just an external problem but also an internal one.
It was at this point that I saw something new about Jesus. If Martha's soul was indeed anything like mine was on Christmas morning, then she deserved a brisk trip to the woodshed. But Jesus merely says, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).
Behold Jesus' self-restraint. See how His remark is powerful and effective without being abrasive. "A bruised reed will not break," indeed (Matthew 12:20). Jesus gets the point across to Martha well enough, without resorting to explicit and humiliating indictment. We should do that too whenever possible. Christmas Day I learned the gentleness of Jesus.
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