Two weeks ago I visited my parents’ church, where the sermon was based on the story of Jesus and his disciples visiting Martha and Mary for dinner. Mary was sitting listening at Jesus’ feet, while Martha did all the serving, and Martha got bent out of shape and irritable that Mary wasn’t helping. Then this week at our church, our pastor preached on the same passage! God got my attention the first time, two weeks ago; he got it even more strongly this week with the repetition of the passage and a similar message, so I will be pondering this closely during the coming days.
I am by nature a Mary– I cherish quiet times of contemplation, and I enjoy learning, either by meditating on Jesus’ words in Scripture or by listening and observing, especially to nature. But I can also get into a productive mode, getting a lot done and feeling good about it. Sometimes, though, I all too easily shift into feeling like I’m doing too much or being resentful that someone else isn’t helping enough. I think those are the times this passage is addressing.
Of course, doing is both necessary and important. It’s easy to read this passage as an indictment against Martha and those who are busy like her, but I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. I really like what my pastor said yesterday about Jesus’ words to Martha being not so much a rebuke as an invitation– an invitation to her (and to us) to bring worry and anxiety to him and then sit at his feet to be renewed, so that we can go on to serve gladly in whatever way God has made us to serve.
In the message a couple of weeks ago, my parents’ priest (who says she is a Mary and her sister is a Martha) suggested reading The Practice of the Presence of God, a very motivating short book by Brother Lawrence, a 17th monk who learned to be attentive to God even in the midst of his daily work in the monastery kitchen. For this week I want to respond to Jesus’ invitation to sit at his feet and then take that focus with me as I go about whatever work I do.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Monday: Let’s take time today to be quiet in Jesus’ presence, reading his word, Scripture, or meditating on creation and what it reveals about him.
Tuesday: Today let’s think about the responsibilities or concerns that distract us from focusing on God. Talk with Jesus about your work and your anxiety.
Wednesday: Do you resent others or God because of the responsibilities you have? Ask God for insight into how your approach to work affects your relationships with him or other people.
Thursday: Most of us are anxious or troubled at some time. Ask Jesus for the ability to keep your priorities right, even when you have much on your mind.
Friday: Mary chose “what is better,” time with Jesus, listening to and learning from him. Let’s do this today and find peace and wisdom in him.
Saturday: God doesn’t call us to work all the time or to overload ourselves with responsibility. Praise him for being a God who wants us as friends, not slaves.