I’ve been wanting to do a blog on Mary and Martha, but I’ve been…well…busy…
It seems appropriate, with the bustle of the holiday season soon to be upon us, to talk about distraction and keeping our focus on what actually matters. There are two Biblical characters who are notable for being in the presence of Jesus and yet too caught up in the wrong way of thinking to care.
Jesus, in defense of impractical love, confronts Martha’s distraction and disillusionment of Judas.
There are several different Biblical accounts where we see a woman (not always identified as Mary) who pours out her adoration in a way that seems irresponsible. She is rebuked by others for it, but defended by Jesus.
Here’s the first account:
“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)
Hosting a large group of people is not easy and it is completely understandable that Martha would be annoyed. I can imagine her, hands on hips, showing her indignation and I can also see Jesus smile as he answers. She was so wound tight that she was not enjoying life or appreciating the moment. Martha was stumbling through her life blinded by distractions. Jesus gently tries to redirect her attention from the multitude of tasks that cluttered her vision back to what was truly important.
Mary, in contrast to her sister Martha, was in the moment and focused on what mattered. It is interesting that in another Gospel account Mary is also criticized by Judas Iscariot for her use of resources, he asks: “Why wasnʼt this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a yearʼs wages.” (John 12:5) And Jesus, seeming to prefer the impractical display of affection, rebukes Judas as he did Martha. In both cases Jesus is endorsing the fanciful over what we would call good stewardship of time and resources.
The disillusionment of Judas leads to betrayal of Jesus.
The Gospel accounts captured a feeling of distain for this man, the writers making sure to inform us that Judas was a thief and stealing from the common purse he carried for the disciples. He’s obviously a complex character, he was chosen as a disciple and evidently had some interest in what Jesus taught.
But we do know that Judas, whether a disenchanted social justice warrior unhappy with the lack of progress or plain greedy and in it for his own gain, was distracted by money. He betrayed his relationships, he was stealing from his friends (hence thier distain) and ultimately died miserable, taking his own life, after betraying Jesus for a little silver.
Many men today are similarly distracted by money and betray family for business and trade true faith for some numbers in a bank account.
The judgment against men who make an idol of money or financial security at the expense of relationships will be severe. They will lose the hearts of their children, love of their wife, and possibly forgo their only chance for salvation.
Martha was simply too busy to enjoy life and too distracted to fully appreciate Jesus.
Unlike Judas (who was serving himself despite his altruistic rationalizations) we see Martha was very busy serving others. She seems to be an extremely duty bound person and was probably completely exhausted. She takes out her frustration on those around her, including sister Martha and even Jesus.
We are not told how Martha responds to the correction offered by Jesus. If she’s like some of the industrious Mennonite women I know she probably scoffed at the suggestion before scurrying away to do all those other things that couldn’t wait. But I can also see her later contemplating what was said, learning to worry less and relax a little.
In Martha I see my own mother (sorry mom, yes I do appreciate all you do and I can’t wait for thanksgiving day) who tends to stress out about hosting people. The house must be perfect. She scrubs, scours, cleans, and frets, often to the perplexed amusement of other inhabitants of the household who don’t mind a little dirt so long as the food tastes good—and it always does.
In conclusion, be a Mary, do not be distracted by things that do not matter and focus on what does.
We to live in a time packed full of activities and work more hours than generations before us so we can afford more stuff that doesn’t satisfy us in the end. Those who aren’t successfully distracted in their business can become bitter when others seem oblivious to their own concerns.
Most of us have our heads spinning because of smart phones, work obligations and social commitments. Even good things, things that are good in their proper place, can keep us preoccupied and spiritually disconnected.
Dutiful religious devotion, reading a few Bible verses or going Christmas carolling and volunteering at the local food bank, is not always connection with the giver of life. To be in the presence of Jesus is to be rested fully in the Spirit of God. It could mean quiet contemplation alone. It could also mean putting aside that carefully arranged schedule and really listening to someone who needs a friend.
Our devotedness to God truly is not measured by the amount of tasks we complete ritualistically. True devotion is to love as God loves—to love the sparrow that falls and love the poor child without a father even more.
The first Christmas started with an impromptu visit of a pregnant woman to a stable in Bethlehem and yet things seemed to turn out just fine. Keep that in mind.
Show devotion by trusting God—trusting God both with the minutia of details that you can’t ever control and also with the ‘big’ things that we delude ourselves to believe are secure and really are not. Science can’t even tell us what keeps the universe glued together, nobody is guaranteed tomorrow, so stop banking on your own abilities and…
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under Godʼs mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
With the holiday season upon us, be sure to contemplate where real security is found, remember what is truly important to remember, and experience the real presence of Jesus!