The Oxygen Mask

When the flight attendants on a jet airplane review the safety instructions before takeoff, they always say these words, “In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure during the flight, an oxygen mask will automatically drop down in front of you. If you are traveling with a child or an elderly adult, put your own oxygen mask on first and then you will be in a position to help your child or elderly adult.”

This advice is counter intuitive. A parent’s first reaction in an emergency is to help our child, and an adult child’s first reaction in an emergency is to help our elderly parent. It seems like that is what Jesus would want us to do. But, if we don’t put our own oxygen mask on first, we will not have the breath, or the stamina, to help anyone else.

In today’s scripture passage, Martha had to learn the importance of putting on her own oxygen mask first. She was upset with her sister, Mary, who had been sitting at Jesus’ feet soaking up his presence, while Martha was preparing the meal…ALL BY HERSELF! Martha wants Jesus to intervene and get Mary to help her in the kitchen! But, Jesus doesn’t intervene.

He recognized that Martha’s attitude of heart was not right. She was so distracted by her many tasks in the kitchen that she wasn’t able to pay attention to her guests. In that culture a woman’s role required her to be in the kitchen. But, in a counter cultural act of radical hospitality, Jesus commended Mary for “sitting at his feet,” which is a technical phrase for being someone’s disciple. Jesus welcomed Mary as a disciple. In fact, he welcomed all women as disciples! And, Jesus would have welcomed Martha as a disciple too… but she was too busy serving in the kitchen!

Here is the irony of the situation. If Martha would have spent time with Jesus, and then went in to prepare the meal, the meal would have been simple, and Martha’s doing would have grown out of her being with Jesus. We can only exhale God’s love to others, if we have first been inhaling God’s love by spending time with Jesus. Jesus is not saying that work in the kitchen is bad. He is simply saying that time with God must be our first priority…like putting on our own oxygen mask. Once we put on our own oxygen mask (by spending time with Jesus) then we will be ready to help others…not grudgingly, because we have to…but, freely…joyfully… because we want to!

[tweetable]The spiritual lesson for all of us is that our acts of service must grow out of time with Jesus. If they do not, we will become irritated with people who do not do what we want them to do. But, if we help others put on their oxygen mask AFTER we have put on our own, by spending time with Jesus, then our acts of kindness will be properly motivated. God is challenging us in this Lenten season to take the time to inhale God’s love through prayer, scripture and sitting at Jesus’ feet… so that when we exhale God’s love to others, we will do so joyfully…and not in a frazzled state…like Martha.

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