BIBLE READINGS: Colossians 1: 15-28 Luke 10: 38-42
Who feels sorry for Martha? I know I do. There she is preparing the food, and her sister is forgetting her duty to be hospitable! Every time I read or hear the story, I think: “The story could end better. If everyone went into the kitchen - including Jesus - then everyone could have sat at Jesus feet. And the dishes would get done, too!”
Jesus is visiting some close friends. As friends will do when they have a special visitor, Martha was scurrying around preparing and serving a meal. Mary, on the other hand, sat at Jesus' feet listening to him. Most of us, I suspect, immediately identify with Martha. She complained to Jesus suggesting to him that he order Mary to help with the work. He refused to interfere. Instead he said to her, "Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things."
He did not call her to task about what she was doing. He accepted her service and hospitality. Such things were important to him. But she was 'distracted' with all the serving. It was her distraction from what was important that caused him to respond as he did. Her anxiety about all the details kept her from the most important thing, really enjoying the opportunity to be with Jesus, to spend time together, to talk, and to listen to one another. She was missing out on the best part of friendship. She was obsessed with 'doing' rather than 'being'.
It can be easy for us to become distracted by many things. We can be more interested in accumulating wealth or power than in being who we are meant to be. And it is not wealth that is wrong. It is being distracted by wealth that is wrong. The accumulation of wealth can become our whole focus in life. It can distract us from building relationships. It can distract us from assuming our responsibilities.
Material things did not distract Martha, but rather what she was doing. We can also be distracted by doing rather than being. Surely one of society's greatest distractions is connected with our role. We are far more concerned with what we do than with who we are. We are concerned with what our role is, or what we are contributing to society. We define who we are by the importance of our job.
Have you ever noticed that when you meet someone, they will ask your name and what you do? We often seem to define ourselves by what we do, or our family relationships. Those who find themselves suddenly unemployed are confronted with a sense of loss. Along with employment, no matter what work we do, comes a certain amount of prestige. When we lose our job, we wrongly lose our sense of who we are. We define ourselves by what we do, and by what we have accomplished. Imagine introducing yourself without saying anything about what you do, or about your family, just about you. Who are you? What would you tell people about yourself?
Martha had a wonderful sense of service. She was well organized, and enthusiastic, a wonderful hostess; but service, even sacrifice can be spoiled by self-concern and self-pity. Good works can become a misery to the doer and a tyranny to others. When what we are doing gets to the point that it distracts us then something has gone wrong and we need to do something about it. We need to concern ourselves with being, rather than doing.
"One thing is needful," Jesus told Martha. Yes, we are to be servants in the world. That is certainly the message of the Gospel. That is certainly the call of discipleship. Martha understood that call. She understood it well. What she did not understand was that the assignment begins at the feet of Jesus. It returns us periodically to Mary's place of quietness and strength. Mary knew that it was at the feet of Jesus that she would renew her strength.
It is through the life of prayer that we get in touch and keep in tune with God. We need times of quiet renewal in our lives. It is through Word and Sacrament that we are renewed and revitalized. From our worship we are sent out into our Monday through Saturday journey into the world to serve. There we transmit some small touch of divine love and power to the despairing, suffering and lonely.
A story to finish. The Lord was coming to Wendy’s house. She wanted everything to be just right, so she scrubbed it from top to bottom. She cleaned and polished until the place shone. Then she laid the table with my best tablecloth. She polished the silver and put out my best china. There were candles and matching napkins. Everything looked quite wonderful.
When Jesus came into her house she greeted him at the door. She lavished attention on him. She made certain the conversation did not lag. He seemed to be most appreciative of their time together. But when he left, Wendy realized that something was bothering her, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
Then a question arose from somewhere inside her. What did Jesus want? Food? Hospitality? She wondered. But then a second question, a more important one, came to her. "What did he want to give? She felt sure he wanted to give her something. But whatever it was, she hadn’t give him any opportunity to offer it.