I totally get where Martha's coming from. Most of us probably do. Most of us have a little more in common with her than we do with Mary.
If you remember, back in Bible days when Jesus walked on earth, he and his disciples used to go to the house of three siblings a lot. These three, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, always seemed to have a lot of people over when Jesus came. And Martha, being the awesome, ninja-skills hostess she was, liked to make sure everything was perfect. A little too perfect.
I can imagine it now: a servant waiting with fresh water of just the right temperature right by the door for washing feet, and soft towels for wiping them off before the guests entered the main part of the house. As your feet are being washed, you can hear the soft strains of harp music wafting through the hall. The spicy scent of kebabs and the warmth of baked bread drifts past you, as the taste of cumin and clove fills your mouth. You cross the scrubbed-shiny floor, and are greeted by another servant with a cup of chilled wine as you enter the room where everyone has gathered. Jesus has just arrived, and everyone is crowding around to hear the Teacher. The press of bodies makes the already warm room even hotter, but the cup of chilled wine that's constantly being refilled helps you not to notice, and the stale smell of sweat is masked a bit by the sweet earthy incense wafting from the corner.*
Someone would have to keep all this running smoothly. And Martha, the good, hospitable hostess, was just the lady for the job. But, as you know, running a party can be pretty exhausting, and it's a pretty thankless job unless someone notices. Martha needed help to keep this thing going. And when she saw her sister just "sitting around" doing "nothing," it looked like this was her opportunity. Here she could ask Jesus to tell Mary to help her. The Master would notice all her hard work, and acknowledge what an awesome person she was. Everyone would think she was the best hostess ever, and she'd get some help.
It doesn't quite turn out that way. When Martha "asks" Jesus, He turns around and, instead of praising her in front of everyone, rebukes her. Instead of getting her sister to help her, Jesus informs Martha that her hard work is distracting her from what's really important, and Mary, choosing to sit and listen, won't be dragged into Martha's plans (Luke 10:38-42).
We all fall into the same trap Martha did (at least I do). We'll jump to sing in the choir, help with Vacation Bible School, go on that missions trip, but we'll neglect our devotions morning after morning for that ten extra minutes of the snooze button. We'll shovel driveways, donate food, and attend every single event our church and the one in the next town over has to offer, but we'll barely spend five minutes talking to God in quiet prayer.
None of that stuff is bad. There's nothing wrong with going on missions trips or attending church events. It's awesome to donate food and shovel snow for people. But if we're not careful, all these good things will get in the way of what's really important: spending time with Jesus. Learning from Jesus. Listening for His voice; learning from His Word. We'll get so distracted by it all, we'll forget why we do it; we'll forget Who we do it for. It'll become all about us, instead of all about Jesus.
I don't think Jesus was telling Martha that all her serving was bad. But she let all her desires for keeping everyone comfortable get in the way of what is the most important: spending time with Jesus. Listening to Jesus. Learning from Jesus. Just sitting at His feet.
Father, please keep us from neglecting our time with You in our service for You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
*Note, this is totally my imagination running wild. God doesn't give us much of a description of how things went about that day, probably because He didn't want the fancy party planners of us mimicking Martha's "perfect" party. Oh, yeah, and probably because the whole point Jesus made about the difference in the two sisters' behavior was way more important.