Mary and Martha Luke 10:38-42 Based on an article by Shawna R.B. Atteberry
Jesus is hanging out with friends in their home just like we do. Martha is doing the same exact thing most of us would be doing if Jesus came to visit us.
Usually when we look at this story we like to put the sisters on opposite poles–Martha is the doer; Mary is the one being with Jesus. Martha has it all wrong. Mary has it right. There’s one problem with looking at the story this way: none of us live in a world where we can divide our lives into either doing or being–we have to have both. And so did Mary and Martha. The Martha things have to be done: we need to eat and clean and do laundry, and all of those other wonderful normal life things. Let’s face it we can’t sit around all day being filled with glory, life does happen. And the same is true in the church. There are things that have to be done. Cleaning, ushering, maintenance, planning, outreach, evangelism, and hospitality are a few of the Martha things the church needs to do. So we really can’t polarize the two sisters. Prayer and devotion are needed, but the natural outflow of time spent with Christ is service to others. Martha and Mary are two sides of one coin.
Although Mary is the one who is lifted up and admired for choosing the best part, and Martha is the sister we shake our heads over, most of us in our day-to-day lives act more like Martha than we do Mary. When we get busy it’s easier to drop the Mary part of our lives. When we get busy our devotional life is the first thing to suffer. Because there again, the Martha things like eating or sleeping or work have to be done.
How do we find a balance in this? The first thing that Mary did was stop and sit. She left the activity of the kitchen and went and sat at Jesus’ feet. So the first thing we need to do is decide when we are going to stop and spend time with Jesus. Plan your quiet times just like you plan other parts of your life. The next thing Mary did was listen, but we need to understand that this is more than just quiet time with Jesus.
In Jesus’ day and age women were not taught the Bible. In fact, one rabbi of the time said it was more profitable to teach your dog the Scripture than your wife. And in this time to sit at a rabbi’s feet meant that you were receiving formal training with him as his disciple. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples, and Jesus taught her as He taught them. This was formal religious education not just quiet time. Luke invites us...challenges us...through this story to consider some in-depth Bible study or maybe some time to read about what others have said about Jesus and following Him.
At the same time let’s not forget Martha. A few hundred years ago a monk named Brother Lawrence joined a monastery because he wanted to devote his time to quiet prayer and meditation. Once in the monastery Brother Lawrence found himself assigned to run the kitchen. So much for quiet! But in the middle of all of his activity, getting up early to collect eggs, haggling at the marketplace, picking veggies, and fixing meals, he discovered that God was with him in all the noise and busyness of his life. He said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”
It is not either/or! We do not have to choose between Mary and Martha. It is more the case that as we make time to do the Mary things: sit, listen, and learn, we will find that being aware of God’s presence in the ordinary busyness of our lives will become more and more normal. We will also find that we don’t have to be either Martha or Mary. At different times we will be both. There are times we will be called to spend time with God alone and not do anything. There will be other times where we are busy serving our families, friends, and church. These two sides of life should move naturally in and out of each other. As we spend time with God He will give us the desire to serve. As we serve and run low on resources, we go back to God for fresh indwelling.
Listen to Brother Lawrence again: The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament..”
As you go about your life this week...in the quietness and the busyness...ask God to make you more aware of his presence...and listen to him.