Luke 10: 38-41
Martha and Mary
I find this passage, short as it is, loaded with imagery. Jesus comes to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha, thrilled that the Lord has chosen to spend time in her home, rushes about taking care of all the little details to make His visit a pleasant one. Mary, also thrilled that the Lord is in her home, places herself at His feet to listen to His every word as if He may not visit this place again. Her action seems simple enough in this modern age, but in the time of Jesus, she was bold, even brazen, to ignore her duties as hostess and sit with the men to listen to the Teacher. I am sure Martha was shocked at her sister’s complete lack of decorum.
If you have sisters, you can put yourself into this story quite easily. Can you hear the conversation as Jesus is coming up the walk? Martha barking orders, checking the bread she has baking in the oven, making sure there is wine on the table, that there is water to wash off the dust from the road, and that the floor is swept perfectly. Mary, telling her sister to stop fussing, is standing at the door waiting for His arrival and rushes out to greet Him with a kiss. After a time, Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her with all the work. Jesus gently tells her that Mary has “chosen the better portion and it shall not be taken from her”. I wonder if Martha was hurt that He did not recognize that she was overworked or if she could see that He was calling to her to put aside her perfectionism for a time and just enjoy His company.
Can you hear the discussion after He left? Did Martha throw up her hands in frustration and demand to know why Mary would not help her? Did Mary shake her head in dismay that her sister did not take the time to sit and listen to Jesus?
In my house that conversation would have gone something like this:
“All these men in the house and you leave me to do all the work! Would it kill you to refill a wine glass or fetch more food from the kitchen? What happened to your manners?”
“My manners? He comes all this way to see you and spend time with you and you can’t even sit down and listen to Him. What is wrong with you? With the way things are going, who knows when He will be able to visit us again! Honestly, there is more to life than the perfect party!”
Perhaps, they were able to spend time together talking about what each of them took away from the time spent with Jesus and were able to appreciate the perspective of the other and learn from each other.
Martha chose to act in the service of the Lord by actively taking care of His needs and the needs of His disciples. Rested and refreshed, they were able to continue their journey and advance their mission of preaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Mary also chose to act in the service of the Lord by actively listening to His teachings. She stayed close to Him, listening attentively, remembering all the little details. Even though she did not always understand, she trusted that the day would come when understanding would be granted to her.
Jesus is not going to come up the walk to my home and teach in my living room. But He does dwell within me. My very being is the home He has chosen to visit. I have to prepare a proper dwelling place for Him not by becoming perfect but by simply opening the door and being ready to receive Him with an open heart. I also have to recognize that it is time to stop fussing about doing everything right and to just sit with Him, listening to all He is trying to teach me. It is very easy to get caught up in religious practices, trying to create the perfect heart, and miss out on all the words of love He is trying to speak to me. It is also easy to become so caught up in reading and study that I can miss out on the opportunities to work with others on the same journey and so miss out on seeing that He is at work within them. I have much to learn from those He places around me and even though I rarely recognize it, they can learn from me as well.
He did not come only to save us as individuals, but also as a community of believers interdependent on one another for strength, support, and the encouragement to persevere in the faith. We are to remind each other to be both the missionary of Martha and the contemplative of Mary, striving always to do His work by advancing His mission of proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand.