Today’s gospel from Luke 10 follows the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke positions the Good Samaritan and the Mary-Martha story back to back for good reason. The parable and the story are examples of the Great Commandment “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” The Good Samaritan parable illustrates “love to neighbor,” whereas the Mary-Martha story illustrates “love to God.”
Meet the two M & M sisters – Mary and Martha. They are two peas in the same pod and yet so different. Martha and Mary live in the same town – Bethany in Judea. They live in the same house. They have the same brother – Lazarus. How can two sisters, so alike, be so different?
We are told by Luke, that Jesus comes to Bethany and to the two sisters’ home for a visit. This is one of many happy times they spend together. Rest, conversation, and friendship, no doubt, occupy their time. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as a disciple would sit at the feet of a rabbi master, listening, observing, and learning. Martha is busy with her many tasks in the household and rather crossly asks, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” (v. 40). What would Jesus’ answer be? Jesus surely loved and valued both sisters equally – Mary, the sitter and Martha, the worker. How can two peas in the same pod function so differently?
Every church needs a Martha. Change that. Every church needs a hundred Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready. Because of Marthas – the church budgets get balanced – church buildings get repaired and cleaned – babies get bounced on loving knees in the nursery. You don’t appreciate Marthas until a Martha is missing – and all the Marys of the church start scrambling to find the keys to lock doors, turn off the lights and turn off the fans. Yes, Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They keep going and going and going.1
However, Jesus rebukes Martha by saying, “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” (v. 41).
Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, looks into the eyes of the Master. Mary listens to his words, his teachings. Mary feels loved, special, affirmed, and graced by Jesus. “Mary has chosen the thing needful …” whereas Martha hurries and scurries about.
Three flies get into Martha’s soup!
The first fly is worry. Martha is worried, anxious, and stressed! We, too, in modern life, know only so well about worry, anxiety, and stress. We are plagued with stress overload. Our internal emotional wiring network blazes hot and shorts out.
This is the age of the half-read page. And the quick hash and the mad dash. The bright night with the nerves tight. The plane hop and the brief stop. The lamp tan in a short span. The Big Shot in a good spot. The brain strain and the heart pain. And the cap naps ’til the spring snaps – And the fun is done. (Virginia Frazier, 1949)
In the next twelve months, we will consume over 20,000 tons of aspirin in some form … that totals 225 tablets per person per year, or 2/3 of a tablet per person per day. It appears that most everyone in the US has a headache most of the time.2
We are anxious and troubled about many things. Jesus speaks the word of grace: “One thing is needful. Mary has chosen it.”
Sit with the scriptures by a quiet lake and you know of that which Mary chose. Or kneel at holy communion … light a candle in the dim darkness on Christmas Eve and let the candlelight glow touch you and move you. Discover the one thing needful.
The second fly in Martha’s soup is distraction. “Martha you are worried and distracted by many things.” To be distracted is to be unfocused. Our thoughts, our plans, and our lives feel like we are out of control and pulled in every direction. To be focused, on the other hand, is to have a plan, a purpose, a meaning that directs and enhances one’s life.
What are those things that keep us from sitting and drinking from the fountain of life? What keeps us from looking and listening and loving? What are the events that distract us from worship? What are the plethora of ideas and thoughts and impulses that obscure the awesomeness of Christ and Christ’s mercy and love? A thousand distractions leap into our lap and demand, “Follow me, buy me, go here, go there, do this, do that!”
Besides being worried and distracted, the third fly in Martha’s soup is resentment. “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” To be resentful is to be indignantly aggrieved at someone. Resentment can rust a relationship. Resentment can freeze out a friendship. Resentment can alienate your allies and associates.
Even though we see three flies in Martha’s soup – worry, distraction, and resentment, the gospel does not call us to irresponsible behaviors. It’s not to say, forget the kitchen, the garage, and the work; play and then go to five Bible studies a week. Rather, it’s to see a balance. Work and worship teeter back and forth in our lives. When the busyness is dominant, then Jesus says, “there is need of only one thing….” Always in response to grace we seek ways of being intentional about our life with God. Prayer, times of solitude and meditation, and aligning our wills to God’s will becomes the priority. My favorite song from the musical Godspell is, “Day By Day.” Look the lyrics up online and read them carefully.
In Ecclesiastes chapter 3, we hear the rhythmic cadence of the wisdom writer who portrays time and timing. There is a time … “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to be born and a time to die … a time to break down and a time to build up … a time to cry and a time to laugh … a time to keep silence and a time to speak … there’s a time for everything.”
There is a time for every matter under heaven. There is a time to labor and a time to love. There is a time to work and a time to worship. There is a time to be Martha and a time to be Mary. It is all about timeliness and balance.
Social activists soon burn out if they do not center themselves and replenish their souls in prayer, worship, and meditation. On the other hand, to focus on only learning, worshiping, and omit the practical application of the gospel, can lead to a self-absorbed life.
A perfect example of a Mary-Martha balance is in the ministry of the Marymusicians from Edison Lutheran Church of Bow, Washington. These Marymusicians are not Christmas carolers though they have that look about them. They are parishioners who pile into cars like Julie Wilkinson Rousseau’s ’66 Mustang convertible, at sundown, Wednesday evenings in the summer, to drive through the countryside sixty miles north of Seattle and make their way onto the porches of the ill and grieving to sing them to sleep. With Gretchen Johanson on guitar, they sing songs like: “Seek Ye First The Kingdom Of God,” “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and “Day By Day” from Godspell. It’s a very simple ministry, two to ten, singing to people with special needs on their porches or outside their bedroom windows.
Marymusic is the “sister” to Marthameals, the name coined when Rousseau was scheduling three groups to provide dinners for a cancer patient. On one food delivery, Rousseau says she realized, “The meal nourished the patient’s family but her need was food for the soul.” So Rousseau gathered singers from church and told them not to bring food but music … they sang to Dorothy Anderson after her husband, Gus, died. And to four-year-old Thor Knutzen, who’s on the heart transplant waiting list. A widower, Fred, who’s not a member of this 400-member congregation still talks about the parishioners who sang for his wife, Kai, who was then dying from cancer. She requested “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and later said, “I just had a real sense of peace sitting there.”3
What of the g\Good News that Jesus is the host of the Meal of Life.
Two sisters representing two aspects of the Christian life alert us to the task of balance as we remember “the one thing needful.” Amen.
A Message brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project