Has Martha been given a fair shake?

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Rev. Walter Klockers

An idiom is a commonly used expression that captures our attention.

Certain idioms have been used for years, and yet they may have been taken for granted. We have forgotten their origins.

For example, “give it a fair shake.” What is the meaning of these words? The answer is “to provide adequate time for examination” or “to try something in a way that shows its true capabilities.” Most people are aware of this. However, what we may not know is where the expression came from.

One explanation is that it is American, birthed in the late 1790s, and refers to a test given to bootleg moonshine. The container of booze in question needed to be shaken vigorously for two or three seconds. This would show the amount of alcohol.

If the liquid had larger bubbles of froth on top, there was a higher amount of alcohol, or “proof.” Smaller bubbles would reveal that it was lower proof. One had to shake it in the right way to get the truth of the product’s quality.

Here’s another idiom: “she’s a Martha.” This refers to the Martha found in Luke (Chapter 10, verses 38 – 42). Jesus was in Martha’s home. She was busy making accommodations for her honored guest. This was while her sister, Mary, was preoccupied with listening to Jesus. Mary was not helping to get things done. Martha suggested that Jesus ask Mary to help. Jesus responded by telling Martha not to worry so much about making the house perfect. Mary had chosen the more important thing to do.

Was this the end of the story? We read in John’s Gospel about Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus.

Are we talking about the same family? If so, did this event occur after Luke’s account? It makes sense to me.

In John’s Gospel, there was word that Jesus was coming to the aid of Lazarus, who was gravely ill. Martha went to find Jesus. Mary chose to stay at home. In the conversation that followed, Martha concluded that Jesus was the Messiah. This was a big deal.

Now, in this instance, which sister did the better thing and had the right answer? Why do people remember the first story more than the second? To do so serves as a grave injustice to poor Martha.

Mark my words and make no bones about it. Martha has been given a raw deal, a bum rap, and the logic used certainly doesn’t hold water. Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.

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