Mary and Martha
Mary and Martha.
This story of Jesus visiting with the two of them has gotten a lot of attention.
We are drawn to look at Mary, as she sits and listens to the teacher, to Jesus.
It is an important image in several ways.
First is the way contained in the phrase I just used:
“As she sits and listens to the teacher, to Jesus.”
Quite shocking for the time:
“She listened” - in that time, it was the men who were expected to listen to the teachers. And teachers were expected to spend time with the men.
So already, before we really get going, we are reminded that Jesus continually broke down the walls that defined the status and standing of different individuals - gender, age, ethnic background.
But let’s keep going. Mary is sitting a listening. Martha is busy in the kitchen. Martha isn’t hearing anything Jesus has to say. Martha is distracted with preparing the meat, baking the bread, washing the utensils. And she is distracted by her frustration - frustration that Mary’s not doing any of the work.
Finally she speaks her piece to Jesus. But he does not send Mary to help in the kitchen. Rather he says that she, Martha, is distracted by many things, but there is need of only one thing, and that Mary has chosen the better portion.
This is a healthy reminder to us.
We, too, get caught up in many, many distractions.
We get caught up in the busyness of life.
We get caught up in FOMO - the fear of missing out, that not only keeps young people glued to their devices, but adults as well.
And we lose track of the need to sit still and listen to the word of Jesus.
Summer is a good time, for many, to remember that need. For those not retired, summer often brings some days that are a little less harried.
Use those days to contemplate God’s word, and to let God’s creation speak to you anew.
Sundays are also a good time for us all to remember that need, the need to listen to the world of Jesus.
There are times when we need to sit down beside Mary. And contemplate the word of God.
Some have used this passage to elevate that listening and contemplation, and other things such as worship and study to such a degree that they are no longer the ‘better portion’ but the only portion. They do this by doing two things:
• they ignore that this is a very specific moment. Jesus has come into the house. Martha runs for the kitchen. Mary sits to learn. If Jesus came in through the door of this church, what should we be doing? Running for the kitchen, or sitting down to listen?
So..... in this moment, when Jesus was right there, the best portion was to sit and listen.
In no way does Jesus say that everyone, every day, should only do that.
They ignore that this scripture has a context. The context is that Jesus has celebrated how the disciples went out, two by two, and did wonderful things.
And then, right before we read the story of Martha and Mary, we hear Jesus share the parable of the Good Samaritan. Did the good Samaritan get that name by sitting on his donkey as it trotted along the road, sitting on the donkey reading the scrolls of the prophets? NO - he gains that name because he acts in LOVE.
Makes me think of Galations 5:14 - - For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Loving neighbour cannot be done simply by reading a book, even the Bible - it is done ACTIVELY.
As Fred Craddock says in his “Interpretation” series commentary, if we asked Jesus which example we are to follow, the active Good Samaritan or the contemplative Mary, Jesus would probably say “Yes.”