BIBLE READINGS:† Colossians 1: 15-28††† Luke 10: 38-42
Thereís nothing like being right! That sense of satisfaction in a discussion when you know your facts, have done your homework - and you know youíre right! Knowing youíre right is probably the major cause of conflict within relationships, between groups and nations. The problem is that both sides think they are right, but you know you are right! Some time ago I did a course with the Conflict Resolution Network. What the course taught me was that most often conflict arises from certainty not uncertainty. That the role of a mediator is often not to help prove one side right or the other wrong, but rather to help the combatants to see the issue as their opponents see it.
Iíll bet you that most of the arguments you have had occurred because you knew you were right! Itís hard to back down, when you are on a winning streak. Its hard to take the time to see the other point of view, when you are bearing down, full-steam ahead. Its hard not to feel righteous when you know that the action or behaviour of others is incompatible with Godís commands.
Take Martha, for instance. Here she is in the kitchen, thereís Mary in the dining room. She can hear the master talking - heís saying something about being a neighbour - something to do with some lawyerís question about eternal life. She can hear the disciples and Mary laughing. She hears Jesus say that those who would inherit eternal life, those who are busy loving God and their neighbour with all their heart, mind, soul and strength are those who reach out to their neighbour in need - like the Samaritan of his story.
Whatís Martha thinking - Wait on! Here I am caring for my neighbour, but itís a big job - what is Mary doing! Nothing! So out she goes and tells Jesus - note she doesnít approach her sister directly - and says "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" She knew she was right, she knew that Jesus had said that the neighbour was the one who help the man in need! Here was Jesus - he was in need of food, what better person to be a neighbour to than Jesus! Martha was brimming with righteousness - because she was right, God bless her! After all, hadnít Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest." (Luke 9:48)
How her indignation must have grown as she slaved over her preparations for the meal, desperate to hear what Jesus said, but wanting to show hospitality and devotion through service. Where was Mary? Sitting, listening - if only she had come and helped, the work would have been halved and they both might have been able to listen to the master.
Finally, righteous indignation boils over into anger, and so she seeks Jesus approval of her actions and his condemnation of Maryís inaction.
You will often hear preachers and commentators dismiss Martha and her concerns because of how Jesus responds. ďMary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.Ē They see this as Jesus response to works - that Martha has chosen to gain Jesus approval through her service, her actions, while Mary has sat at Jesus feet and devoted herself to what Jesus said.
But this seems too harsh a judgement. After all, Martha was right! Jesus own teaching was to show hospitality. In fact Jesus never said she was wrong! Only that Mary had chosen better. Marthaís worry led her to feel anger toward her sister, and maybe a little toward Jesus - but her heart was in the right place - she had chosen to devote herself to Jesus, just as Mary had. Its just that her worry made her forget the point of her devotion - her service.
I think a meal prepared in anger tastes different from that same meal prepared in love. Just as sitting attentively, but selfishly, is not the same as sitting attentively and humbly.
Perhaps Jesus is commending both showing hospitality, as well as sitting at his feet and attending to the word of God. Arenít both needed for Christian living? Maybe we need to embody the actions of both sisters in our lives.
Life is a rhythm of action and reflection, of involvement and disengagement, of hard work and quiet receptivity. Maybe some of us are more like one sister than the other. Maybe most of your life is taken up in reflection about Godís Word, His provision and direction, or maybe your life is full of active service in our church and the community.
There are churches that are Martha churches, and there are churches that are Mary churches. Some are so busy involving their members in a ceaseless round of activity, that they simply have too little time to be quiet and enjoy being in the presence of Jesus.
There are others that seem to think that if they simply gather, sit quietly for worship and meditate that is enough!
Mary and Martha together invited Jesus into their home, they both responded to Jesus, yet in different ways; different but complementary. How these women responded needs to be a challenge to us to examine our lives, our disciplines of discipleship. If we want to be well-rounded disciples then there needs to be a balance between action and reflection, involvement and meditation, as these are all aspects of faithful Christian living.
And certainly we need to be careful to not judge our brother or sister's action or inaction by what we are doing. Instead, as Paul says, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. If Martha had cooked and praised God for Maryís chance to listen to Jesus, the meal would not have been sour grapes!