Mary and Martha
Day 24 — September 14, 2018
By Jennifer Jennings
The familiar story of Mary and Martha is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. However, I think too often, we are quick to say in this story that Mary or Martha is the “bad” guy, when in reality that’s not the story. There is no bad guy. Mary and Martha are both doing their part. In the first century, the early church was rooted in hospitality. They didn’t have the big, beautiful sanctuaries like the one we just renovated. So hospitality from women like Martha was essential to spreading the Gospel and keeping the church alive. By opening up her home to Jesus and his disciples, Martha is literally doing church. Similarly, the church today couldn’t exist without women and men like Martha who are willing to put in the hard work to keep the church doors open, to do repair work, to take meals to people in need, to teach Sunday school. All of those things are important. But just as Martha opened up her home to the gospel, Mary opened up her heart to the Gospel, and that is equally important. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary was acknowledging Jesus’ role in her life. Jesus was in charge, and Mary’s job was to listen to him, to learn from him, and to worship Him. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is also doing church—just differently than her sister. And just like the role of Martha, the church today couldn’t function without women and men like Mary who are constantly praying, constantly in a process of discernment to figure out where God is calling the church and where God is leading the church.
Instead of placing blame, Jesus reminds Martha that while she is distracted by many things and worried about many things, those distractions and worries aren’t really important. Ultimately what is important is placing your undivided attention on Jesus. And therefore Jesus challenges us to ask: what is distracting us? What is keeping us from worship?
When I was in college, I got a degree in English, and I thought that I was going to go on and get my PhD and teach English at a university. I worked tirelessly night and day, always doing more research, always editing a paper one more time. Always thinking I could reach perfection and that once I reached perfection, once I was published, I would be happy. I did end up publishing an article for an online project associated with a literary magazine. I didn’t feel any different, any happier, any more perfect. It was only when I stopped being distracted with my great ambitions to be God’s gift to literature, that I realized I was called to ministry. But it took being still and listening to hear my call.
Pay attention to your Mary and Martha moments this week. I would say in life there aren’t necessarily people who only ever act like Martha and people who only ever act like Mary, but moment by moment we make decisions, we add things to our schedules, we make time for things that are important. As you go about your day, be intentional about noticing your Mary moments—those moments when you pause and truly notice the presence of God, moments of quiet in the car on the way to run errands or at lunch. But also be intentional about noticing your Martha moments—moments when you feel distracted and detached. Pray that God will show you ways where you can act out your faith in your daily life—even if it means outside the walls of the church. You don’t have to teach a Sunday school class or lead in worship to be involved in the work of the kingdom.
Theologian Friedrich Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Pray for God to reveal to you the ways in which your deep gladness and your church or community’s deep hunger can meet. Pray for discernment and then have the courage to act on it.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”