De-Martha-izing Ourselves

Martha and Mary
by Maria Laughlin

Jesus comes to visit.  One person serves, the other person sits.  The server thinks the sitter ought to be helping serve so that they can then both sit.  The sitter doesn’t care what the server thinks; Jesus is in the house!  Server complains.  Jesus says that, actually, the sitter has made the better choice.

At this point, if I were the server, I would be confused, hurt, and a little upset.  I’m trying to prepare food for Jesus and everyone else to eat.  I’m busy, hoping to later sit, rest, and listen.

Or am I?

Perhaps I’m busy exactly so that I do not have to sit.  Busy-ness is a great defense against the penetrating eyes and love of God.  Or perhaps I feel that the sitter shouldn’t be there at Jesus’ feet, so I try to make work that will also involve the sitter.  Perhaps I’ve become so active that I’ve simply forgotten how to be soft-hearted and how to worship.

This is us.  Well, many of us at least. We are Martha, and it’s killing us.  It’s killing the church.

Take, for example, the church in Ephesus.  It was a happening place – full of messy passion (see Acts 19) and growing together in knowing God (see Ephesians).  They were Mary – devoted, happy to know God and be used by him.  Then something happened.  Martha crept in, and the church became busy, vigilant, and love-less (see Revelation 2:1-7).  Finally, Jesus says something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re a great Martha – enduring, bearing up, testing doctrine, doing your stuff.  But you’ve forgotten to be Mary. You have left the love you used to have for me, and if this doesn’t change, you will become useless to me.”

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not against Martha, or being Martha, or doing things, or even seasons of busy-ness.  They all have a proper place in our life together with Christ…

…but not at the expense of Mary.

Being Martha comes after being Mary.  Without this foundation – of devotion, sitting at his feet, knowing God, enjoying God, being pierced by God’s loving gaze, soaking in his presence – without the foundation of Mary, being Martha will burn us out and harden our hearts.

Besides, I believe that the posture of Mary is much more attractive to the hurting and broken world than the posture of Martha.  Who wants to escape the busy rat race simply to join a different busy rat race? Not me.

Luke 10:40 tells us Martha was distracted.  At this point her service and busy-ness was not an act of worship.  It came from a place of anxiety and trouble (10:41), and it was a diversion from what she really needed.  Jesus looked at her with great love and compassion, just like he looks at you and me, and said:

“One thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion.”

The interesting thing is that Psalm 16:5 (and other Psalms) make it quite clear that the best portion in life, the greatest possession, is walking closely with God.  This does not happen by being a distracted Martha.  It happens when we, like Mary, spend time to sit, listen, soak, and love being loved by God.

In the end, Hillary of Poitiers (4th century) rightly said “God can only be known by devotion.”  Let us ground ourselves in being Mary, that we may know God even as we are known by him, for this is the launching pad to a life full of joy, excitement, pleasure, and compassion.

Choose this day the good portion.


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