The Legacy of Mary and Martha
The gospel passage this past week is a familiar one for most lifetime church goers. It was the story of Mary and Martha. You know the one… where Jesus is visiting the home of two sisters and one of them (Martha) is doing all the work of preparing food for the entourage of people that arrive with Jesus. Martha is doing what is expected of her, following the cultural norms and rules of the day. When she discovers that her sister Mary is not helping out, she gets angry and complains to Jesus – basically asking him to tell Mary to do her fair share. Jesus response is one that is often seen as confusing. He tells Martha “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
This response form Jesus has often been misunderstood as a condemnation against Martha for not having the right priorities. Somehow Martha’s choice to fix a meal was the wrong one. But what we do not always realize is that the story that is told right before this is the parable of The Good Samaritan. You remember that one right? The one where Jesus points out that we should be helping out those in need, even those who are strangers to us. Isn’t this what Martha is doing? Jesus does not arrive at their house alone; he never really does. He usually has an entourage – both disciples and important religious authorities, and lots of curiosity seekers as well. Martha seems to be following these commands of helping your neighbor! So where does she go wrong?
I think that it is not her decision to make a meal and feed people but rather in her attitude towards her sister. Martha is doing what she believes is important, but when her sister does not join in she gets angry. She probably communicated those emotions to Mary, but when her sister didn’t get the hint, she went public – expecting Jesus to condemn Mary’s choice. Jesus is unwilling to do this.
This seems like such a powerful and needed lesson for us today. As we watch the political conventions on TV, witness the violence in our streets and hear the kind of anger and condemnation that people so easily fling at one another – imagine how Jesus might respond to us! Towards our attitudes of jumping all over those people who see the world differently than us. The ways we diminish people who are different. The anger we seem to so easily display whenever we encounter a dissenting opinion. The utter lack of tolerance on display (even in a world that stresses political correctness).
Jesus response to Martha is the same to us. As we encounter diversity, multitudes of values, and differing opinions, don’t allow your worry, anxiety, or anger to overcome you and lead you down a path where you condemn the actions of others for simply being different. Forcing your way of living upon others doesn’t work. Instead choose to love and cherish the people God brings into your life (as frustratingly different as they may be) and instead imbue their lives with God’s grace – the one thing you possess that will help them to become the people God created them to be.
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