On a recent Sunday in church, we read the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospel according to Luke. (Luke 10:38-42) The story focuses on the interaction between Mary, Martha, and Jesus. I am sure many sermons have been preached on the complementarity of Mary and Martha, urging us to unite active and contemplative, inner and outer, either within us or within our communities of faith. Other sermons will try to reconcile Jesus' rebuke of Martha, or perhaps be offended by it. (See further helpful comments on the text from Ian Paul.)
But an aspect of the story possibly overlooked is Martha's resentment of Mary. (See this picture for Martha's face full of resentment.) She is resentful that Mary is not helping, or perhaps that Jesus favours her slack sister, or that she, Martha, is not receiving the recognition from Jesus that her service is meant to receive. A universal experience. Resentment makes the world go around.
St Paul says that without love all we do is worthless. (1Cor 13:2-3) It might seem a bit extreme, but he is right. At root, an act of service might also be about convincing ourselves that we are ‘good’ people, or perhaps a search for recognition. And when I say ‘convince’ I don’t mean in an explicit, conscious way. More like playing a subterfuge on ourselves, not just the world around. Hidden motivations lead to resentment very easily.
It has struck many people that whatever resentments Jesus may have held during his life and early ministry they have been refined out as he makes his way to the cross so that his death and resurrection are without resentment. ("Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing," and "Peace be with you.") He dies and lives for us.
In the story of Mary and Martha the latter’s resentment is disclosed. She wanted more than to be a servant. Jesus, on the other hand, in the time of his public ministry is satisfied to be Jesus, beloved of God, servant of humankind, without resentment even when crucified by those he loves.