I have had this title in my Onenote notebook for Blog Ideas since October 4, 2009. That was all I had.
"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.'” Luke 10:38-42 NIV
And a blank page.
And a huge question mark in my heart.
How can I have Mary's heart when Martha's work needs to get done?
That page has stayed blank because I thought I'd write it when I had figured everything out.
Uh-huh. So much for that idea. It's 2011 and I still don't know how it's supposed to work.
I've heard (at least) a zillion sermons about how Mary chose the better thing, the sitting, in rapt attention at Jesus' feet, inhaling the very breath of the Logos and soaking up the words that flowed from Him. I'm there. I buy in. I eagerly desire to have Mary's heart and to have my priorities aligned with hers--
fully fixed on Jesus.
But what about Martha? I always feel sorry for Martha and a little bewildered on her behalf. At least that's how I feel with the way sermons on this passage are usually presented. So often they tend to be scornful of Martha's busyness and wag their finger at her asking Jesus to get Mary to help her. But is that the way Jesus treated her? With scorn and disapproval? That's not how it feels to me.
Hospitality was a core value in Martha's culture. The work she was doing was necessary and important and she was doing her best literally to serve the Lord! This was her house and it was suddenly filled with a dozen or more disciples and the Son of God was her guest!! Who among us wouldn't leap into action to serve Him and His followers to the best of her ability? No matter what century you live in, that's a lot to think about, a lot to do, and none of us would want to just throw on a pot of mac & cheese from a box! Martha wanted to serve her Lord well. She also didn't want to be the only one sweating in the kitchen, spending Jesus' entire visit away from Him--maybe she wanted to hear what Jesus had to say too, but couldn't be two places at once. Martha's work was good work. It was her responsibility as the lady of the house. Martha's work needed to get done
So does mine.
The Mary heart is easy for me. I love to study. Love to read. Love to sing and write and notice Him in every little detail of my day and the people around me. I SO would have been Mary, ignoring all that needed to be done to sit at Jesus' feet. Ask my mother how eager to help her I was growing up when guests were in town--I far preferred the living room where the conversation was over the kitchen where she was preparing the meal for them. Ask Hero Husband, who is far more naturally passionate about a clean house than I am--I'm afraid I test the limits of his patience much too often. He well knows what wins in a battle between housework and pursuits of a more contemplative nature. It's not that cleanliness isn't important to me, it's just not always urgent to me in the moment. Housework is not my natural inclination and I will almost always give priority to people and to matters of spirit and relationship and to the work of transforming and enriching my mind.
Judging from the results of my Mary-heartedness, something may be out of whack.
Nevermind Martha's work, Shaunie's work is not getting done.
What was Jesus really saying to Martha? Was Jesus saying that her work didn't matter? Was He telling her not to do it? Was He giving ME permission to ignore work that needs to be done because I'm pursuing study or service in words?
That can't be it. There are too many places in God's word that put high value on the importance of diligence and hard work (Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 12:11, Proverbs 14:23, Proverbs 18:9, and the one that always beats me over the head Proverbs 31:10-31). It just can't be an either/or proposition.
So how can I have Mary's heart when I need to get Martha's work done?
After reading and re-reading this passage again and again, I'm starting to think it wasn't that Jesus was correcting Martha for being about the work of serving Him, only that she was fretting so about it, and that she was trying to correct Mary's manner of serving Him. The better thing Mary had chosen cast no indictment on Martha's spirituality, but neither did Martha's service render Mary lazy and useless for sitting at the Master's feet. Both active service AND comtemplative study and prayer are important aspects of our Christian lives.
I really love this:
"We must not be so active as to neglect communion with God, nor so contemplative as to become unpractical." C. H. SpurgeonFather, please help me to find the place of balance between the active ways I am charged with serving You by serving my family, and the study, prayer, writing, learning that truly is the "better" thing. Help me to keep Mary's heart AND to get Martha's work done. Help me to do my active work without fretting and being encumbered by it. Help me to learn from both Martha and Mary--they both loved You, both served You, both lived for Your glory. That is what I want to do.
Do you identify more with Martha or Mary in this story?
How do you strike a balance in your focus?
Joining Emily Wierenga for Imperfect Prose