Luke 10: 38-42 Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
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.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke paints for us a picture that reveals the divinity of Jesus which is humble—almost ordinary. I think it is appropriate that Luke has chosen Mary to show us the way to “see” the divinity of Jesus Christ through her eyes of faith.
Martha is consumed with busyness while trying to prepare the evening meal. From the text we see that Martha disapproves of Mary as she sits at Jesus’ feet listening intently to him. Perhaps she is jealous. Perhaps resentful. Perhaps irritated. We are not told specifics except that Martha is preoccupied by her numerous tasks and asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help. Jesus replies, “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.” Mary’s silence, speaks louder than Martha’s actions.
It is Mary, and not Martha, who understands the fundamental nature of prayerful discipleship. For those of us who enjoy centering prayer, Mary’s sense of devotion and quiet worship embodies the essence of contemplative prayer. Sitting in the presence of Christ is more than absorbing knowledge and gaining wisdom, it is a form of deep spiritual communion.
Though we are not able to sit at Christ’s feet as Mary did, we can join in Communion and connectedness to Christ’s presence.
I find it interesting that Christ offers his comments only after Martha criticizes Mary’s lack of participation in the cleaning and food preparation. We are not told what Christ tells Mary, but we receive a clear message that busyness, even busyness for “important reasons” should not take precedence over spiritual lives.
I imagine that Martha was a bit of a perfectionist, probably attending to the smallest detail. Everything had to be perfect. I’m sure that Martha would accept nothing less. You probably know people like Martha who lose themselves in an endless world of tasks. Maybe you can see yourself in Martha’s story.
Within the eye of this hurricane of Martha’s chaotic activity, Jesus is calm, speaking to Mary. Unlike Martha, Mary is still, quiet, unassuming and reverent. The stark contrast makes this a difficult story. On first reading, Christ elevates Mary, giving her special praise while criticizing Martha for preparing the house and evening meal. From this superficial level, we can see that Luke’s account pits prayerful reverence against work.
I do not believe Christ is condemning work. Surely, Christ wanted to eat. Someone had to prepare the food.
If we look deeper, additional elements are present.
Humility vs. Ego
All throughout the short account, a theme of humility emerges. Christ displays humility. Mary embodies humility. Martha does not. Martha seems prideful and demanding, insisting that Mary join her. Ego, the sense of self-importance, drives an individual who “knows what is right.”
Invitation vs. Demand
Christ invites. Martha demands. Christ offers an invitation into a deeper spiritual life. Martha models a life consumed by the things of this world. Though Martha may assume that her work is essential, she models the scripture in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Martha seeks glory and recognition for her hard work at the expense of nourishing her soul.
Stillness vs. Motion
All too common, individuals fill their lives with work, activities and pleasures of all kinds. Stillness and silence are difficult for many of us. It is difficult for me, perhaps it is difficult for you. Sitting still and listening without speaking is truly hard. Focusing our body and mind on stillness requires that we relinquish the control and power that endless motion has in our lives.
Acceptance vs. Rejection
Within the invitation to worship, commune and learn is a deeper welcome. Christ asks Mary, and us, to accept offerings of knowledge and wisdom. Christ is the giver. We are the receiver. Mary accepts. Martha rejects. Allowing ourselves to receive is also difficult for those who find themselves in the caregiver role. I believe Martha is trapped in that role, always providing care, giving of herself. Mary has the ability to set aside a cultural norm and accept the gift so freely given by Christ.
Willingness vs. Willfulness
Mary is a living sacrifice by her willingness to offer herself spiritually to Christ. Her willingness transcends the limits of our mortal world. Christ and Mary are connected spiritually. It is elegant in its simplicity. Mary shows us that willingness to enter into a spiritual realm with Christ is the better path. Martha demonstrates willfulness. She seeks to go her own way, driven by her own desires and expectations. Martha is willing to do the work, yet she is not willing to move into a spiritual relationship with Christ. This happens frequently in a church. People are willing to do the busy work, rather than enter fully into the divine.
Distraction vs. Attention
Simple focus, the ability to give our mental and spiritual attention to Christ requires us to listen for Christ’s leading and not the endless chatter many of us experience when we try to
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quiet our minds. How often in prayer do you simply sit quietly and wait upon the Lord? Christ uses the term distracted to describe Martha’s activities. I believe he is speaking to her spiritual condition. Distraction keep us from being fully present and available to God’s spirit. Distraction creates a barrier.
Recognizing ourselves in Martha may seem like a condemnation. Over identifying with Mary may seem like insulation. In my experience we are both Martha and Mary. Perhaps, too often, we fall into the role of Martha, believing that our physical efforts are enough. It is not. Yes, work is necessary. If fact, it is essential. Both James and Paul affirm that work is necessary. Living solely in the spiritual realm is not sustainable.
Living solely in the world of work and busyness is not the answer. We are not hopelessly bound to an external world, forever separated from Christ.
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Living our faith requires balance. Sometimes, we just need to sit at the foot of Christ and attend fully to the needs of our soul. Sometimes, we need to prepare meals. Balance requires understanding and insight into how we operate. To help us in this meditation I found a few difficult questions, you may find many more.
Are you driven by your ego rather than willing to be humble?
Do you demand your own way rather than enter the invitations that others offer?
Can you abandon the need for endless motion and move into a state of stillness?
Are you able to accept, to receive, rather than reject what Christ offers?
Does willfulness keep you from willingness to enter into a deeper spiritual relationship with Christ?
Will you allow your attention to Christ to have more power than the distractions of life?
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Are you willing to choose the better part?
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.