I was on the phone planning a family reunion with my cousin Sue. We had sent out save-the-date notices, and even an Evite. I plan to send three more reminders. The first of these reminders will be asking about what foods they each want to bring.

Since I am hosting, I will provide barbecue and fried chicken, and I know without asking that cousin Brenda will make Maw Maw’s pecan pie, but I will need to ask and not assume or take advantage of her cooking skills. I hope my husband will make his delicious pimiento cheese sandwiches. But my cousin Sue and I got into a philosophical conversation a little off the subject.

At some point cousin Sue said it really doesn’t matter about the food, the important thing is getting together, renewing our family memories and catching up on those we don’t see regularly.

I agree wholeheartedly. And as at any gathering, one of the jobs of the hostess is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. But in reality the food does matter. If the food is not good, if there is not enough, if everyone brings the same thing, if people feel they are spending too much money, they might not come again next year.

I know a family who had no one who would host the yearly reunion. They devolved into meeting at the Golden Corral. That worked for about two years, and then they drifted into the occasional Christmas card and the inevitable funeral meetings.

Someone has to do the coordinating and the planning, or no one will enjoy the reunion, especially not the hostess.

So I said to Sue, “Yes, the visiting is most important, the conversation and hugs, but the food matters.”

No matter how many times a teacher or preacher reinterprets the Martha and Mary story for me (Luke 10:38-42), I retain a bit of hurt feelings that Jesus didn’t rave a little more about Martha’s hospitality before urging her to look to her priorities. Cooking for friends and family is a loving act.

We have it on good Biblical authority that when people became hungry while listening to Jesus teach, he could feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes. But a housewife, a hostess, doesn’t depend on miracles. She depends on a plan: a menu, grocery lists, trips to stores and fresh markets, and an action list. She times all the preparations. When should I start the roast? When should I whip the cream? People who depend on miracles end up eating greasy, unhealthy fast food.

And I understand Martha’s feeling of being alone in her work. Why should Mary get to sit down with the Son of God while Martha cleans the fish? If they worked together, maybe they could both sit down a little sooner. But whining, even to powerful others, doesn’t help. You just get a scold.

Jesus told Martha that she was trying to do too much and that Mary had chosen the better action: to sit and listen and learn. Martha might have responded, “But Jesus, don’t you value my talents? I am not an academic.” It is like when grandma cooks a feast and the grandchildren say, “Oh, we stopped at McDonald’s on the way over.”

What if when offered a bit of a loaf and a fish on the side of the mountain, someone had said to Jesus, “I don’t like fish. Please, could I have roasted lamb?”

Well, we don’t know the whole story of that day in Bethany. But after my conversation with Sue and a discussion of modern distractions with a writing friend, I went back and reread the Martha and Mary story.

And I am willing to try to ignore what I have always perceived as a slight to all homemakers. I believe that Jesus is love and love is always kind. I am ready to remember that all of those disciples and storytellers and recorders of the parables were men and forgive them. I am ready to hear the important words of Jesus on that day: Focus on the one thing that is most important.

We modern women want to do everything. Prepare a great meal, a clean welcoming meeting place with flowers, and be the star student as well. We distract ourselves from our primary life goal. We need continuing reminders to ask ourselves, “What is the one important thing? Where shall I focus my energies and attention?”

I’m sure Jesus and his followers eventually ate the food that Martha had prepared. They probably enjoyed it. But some things are more important than food. Maybe Martha should have let go of her need to please and sent out to the local tavern for a pot of stew.

Maybe I should think about ordering pizza for the reunion. But I still think that if all the cousins bring just one covered dish, we can have great food and great conversation.

Cheryl Hilderbrand is a Jackson writer and educator. Email her at cmhild@bellsouth.net.

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