Meditation on Luke 10:38-42
July 21, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Thank you for your birthday cards and notes! I enjoyed them so much! Bob and Marialice sent me one that began, “And God said, ‘Let There be Light. And Lo And Behold…” You open the pop up card, and inside it says, “And there was your birthday cake!” I don’t know, I lost count, but I’m pretty sure there were at least 100 candles blazing on top of the cake.
I don’t think I am 100, yet. But I have trouble remembering my age. Do you know how old you are? My grandfather, when he was in 90s, when you asked him how old he was, he would say, “Oh, around 75.” That’s how old he thought he was. So I think I am in my 50s. But, after seeing Bob and Marialice’s card, I could just be fooling myself!
I have been partying since Thursday. I am going to be like Lula and celebrate my birthday all month long. Age doesn’t bother me, but the one thing that worries me on my birthday is the nagging question, “Am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I being faithful to the call?”
I had to come up with a “rule of life” for a school assignment this summer. Then I had to live it out for at least a month and write a paper about the experience. Author Marjorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, says “Certain kinds of plants need support in order to grow properly. Tomatoes need stakes, and beans must attach themselves to suspended strings. Creeping vines like clematis and wisteria will grow on any structure they can find. Rambling roses take kindly to garden walls, archways, and trellises. Without support, these plants would collapse into a heap on the ground. Their blossoms would not have the space and sun they need to flourish, and their fruits would rot in contact with the soil. .. . When it comes to spiritual growth, human beings are much like these plants. We need structure and support. Otherwise, our spirituality grows only in a confused and disorderly way.” In Christian tradition, the kind of structure that supports our spiritual growth is called a “rule of life.”
My rule includes walking, praying and engaging in holy reading each day, taking time for stillness, silence and rest, as this is Christ’s gift to us. Also being kind and encouraging others, practicing forgiveness, talking to strangers, showing hospitality–these are as good for our spiritual health as they are for others. Being kind to self is on my rule– eating what is good, for when our physical body is healthy, we can better handle the mental, emotional and spiritual challenges of our lives. Finally, I knew my rule needed to include living free of anxiety and fear. Jesus tells us not to worry or be afraid, as in Matthew 6, in his “consider the lilies” teaching and in John 14, when he tells his grieving disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”
I can’t help but wonder if Mary and Martha had to write a rule of life, what would it be? Martha’s rule might focus more on service. Mary’s on loving God, delighting in His Word, and enjoying His presence. All of these are important in our Christian life.
In this gentle, living room scene, we discover which part is the better one, the most important to the Lord. Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany is a stop on the way to Jerusalem. The cross looms ahead. Jesus is preparing his followers for their mission after his death and resurrection.
Just before Christ’s visit with Mary and Martha, a lawyer asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who shows mercy to an enemy, at risk to his own life. “Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.” The themes of listening to God’s Word and doing God’s Word, discipleship and hospitality, appear throughout the gospel of Luke.
Wonderful things happen to hearts, minds and spirits as people gather to eat with the Lord, a shadow of things to come–when people will come from the north, south, east and west to feast at the banquet table in the Kingdom of God. This time, in the Mary and Martha story, in the space of just 5 verses, an important spiritual lesson arrives before dinner is served.
I don’t know about you, but I admire and feel sorry for Martha. In my mind, she is like Martha Stewart. She has everything just right. Cloth napkins are folded into the shape of geese; the best china is laid out with a floral centerpiece on the white linen tablecloth. Ok, Martha probably didn’t have china, linen, and a floral centerpiece, but you get the idea. She has prepared a feast fit for the King of Kings. Doesn’t Jesus deserve the very best? I’d be nervous in Martha’s shoes, too.
But Mary…. What’s going on with her? In those days, women wouldn’t be sitting in the living room with the men while dinner was being prepared. She might have been assigned hostess duties, but then sat down at Jesus’ feet to listen and enjoy his presence, rather than return to the kitchen with Martha. Maybe Jesus has invited her to sit with him when he sees her hanging on his every word.
Martha is exasperated. I have a feeling this isn’t the first argument they have had, after all, they are sisters with very different gifts and passions. I imagine Martha wiping sweat from her brow, muttering, “If it weren’t for me, there would be no dinner at all!” She is so upset, she isn’t talking to Mary, and she does a thing called triangulation. Our kids used to do this. “Mom! Tell James he has to help me clean up!” Did your kids ever do that? She feels sorry for herself for having too much to do, though she chose to do it all. Don’t we do that? We make more work for ourselves and then complain about how much we have to do! She is jealous of her sister, too, for getting all the attention. “Lord, do you not care,” she asks, “that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.”
Many of us were raised to be Marthas. I was, though I was never able to do it all and do it well; this is still a value in our society, especially for women. Busy people are more admirable than people who are less busy. That’s why when we are sick, injured or struggling with mobility, we feel less valuable. Society teaches us this, beginning with our families in our childhood. It was a value in Jesus’ time, too, for women. This is nothing new.
Luke seems to be telling us in this passage that busyness, even when our intention is to serve and care for others, can become the thing that makes us proud, distracted, resentful, and anxious, if we lose our focus on the Lord. As the first question of our Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man? To enjoy God and glorify him forever.”
Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
On this day, when I celebrate and give thanks for another year to live this wonderful life, and enjoy and glorify our Lord, the one question I will invariably ask myself is, “Am I doing what God wants me to do?” Now I have a rule of life to help me to be faithful and support my spiritual growth and health. Walking, reading God’s Word and prayer every day–these are going well. And I’ve been more intentional about being still and enjoying the presence of God, and allowing myself to rest, without feeling guilty.
But living free from anxiety and fear and not getting caught up in busyness, well, I think I need some help. So I am starting a women’s book study Aug. 20, Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.
My hope is that we will support each other, trust one another enough to become vulnerable, and find healing through laughter, love and prayer. I will have an opportunity to practice hospitality, as the gathering will be in the early evening in my living room. If there are more than 12 women interested, we can start a second group to meet during the day at church. So sign up, even if the 12 spaces are filled.
When my husband found out that I am starting a group for women, he said, “Well, what about the men?” He is considering starting a men’s group. Men also struggle with society’s value of busyness. I am sure men were taught when they were small the more that they do, the more valuable they are. Anxiety and thoughts of I am not doing enough, no matter how much we do are not a “woman thing” or a “man thing.” It is a reality for all human beings.
Please, hear the Good News! We are freed and forgiven from the sin of busyness and works righteousness. We have been reconciled with God and human beings because of the work of Christ, our Risen Savior.
Don’t sacrifice your relationship with the Lord and others by losing your focus, and getting caught up in everything you are doing. Don’t give in to your anxieties and fear. I encourage you to write a simple rule of life. I hope you will include starting your day with God’s Word and prayer. This will feed your faith and strengthen you to do the acts of kindness and humble service that God wants you to do.
I leave you with Christ’s encouraging words to Martha, exasperated, resentful, jealous, overwhelmed, though she is graced with the presence of her loving Lord in her living room. “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
Let us pray….
Lord God, we are so joyful to be in your presence, delighting in your Word. Thank you for your work done for our sakes–because you love us and want to be in a close, loving relationship with us. Help us to keep our eyes focused on you and not get caught up in the busyness of life. Stir us to pray and listen for your Word every day. Forgive us our anxieties and fears. Guide us in your Will–so that we do the acts of kindness and humble service that you want us to do. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.