Mary and Martha: what really matters

Luke 10:38 – 11:1 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.”

I’m sure you’re all familiar with this Bible story. Jesus comes to teach, and one sister stays to listen while the other sister takes care of the hospitality. The sister who works is jealous of the sister who doesn’t, and tries to get Jesus to come in on her side and make her sister help. This passage has been used many times over the centuries to argue that study and contemplation are holier and more worthy than working; more troublingly, this passage has been used to dismiss the contributions women make to the church and to society at large. After all, the argument goes, the traditional main role of women is to support and care for people—just as Martha says—and Jesus says that the role of religious study and contemplation is more worthy.

But let’s take a closer look at this passage. Jesus does not condemn Martha’s actions, but the way in which she carries them out. Martha is worried and distracted by many things. Martha is more worried about the work to be done than she is in why it needs to be done.

Let’s be realistic. There’s a lot of support work out there that needs to be done, whether it falls under the realm of “women’s work” or not. No church, family, or community can long survive without it. But all too often, when we do the support work that everything else depends on, we get so caught up in the details that we forget why we’re doing it. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We get worried and distracted by many things, just like Martha.  Here in the church office, it’s easy to get so caught up in finding a new coordinator for the food pantry, dealing with building renovations, scheduling visits with shut-ins, and such, that we forget why we as Christians need food pantries, buildings and people who can’t come to church.

We need to remember that the details that distract us are not the big picture. No matter how important they may be to daily life, they are not the ultimate goal of life. As Christians, our focus is in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are freed from sin and death to become children of God, and are called to spread the Good News of God’s redeeming love to all the world. When life’s distractions get overwhelming and we find ourselves worried by many things and many responsibilities, we need to take a page out of Mary’s book and take the time to remember what our true center and focus is.  We run food pantries because of God’s saving call for justice and healing for all including (especially!) the poor.  We need buildings to provide a base for our worship of God and our spread of the Gospel.  We need to care for shut-ins because they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the body of Christ.  What distractions do you have in your life?  How do they keep you from remembering the “big picture”?

If you have any questions about God, Christianity, or the Christian faith, please comment and I will address them next week.

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