Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What does it mean to “sit with something”?
Our gospel passage this past Sunday from the lectionary continues this concept of Jesus going along somewhere, of a journey. It paints a picture of a stop on that journey, the home of Mary and Martha, after entering a certain village.
The author is concerned about folks genuinely hearing a message, a word, an understanding of God’s Kingdom, or, as I’ve said before, God’s Presence and radical inclusion, which, when we recognize it and live into it, allows us to be present, to be aware, and to love the folks that we meet, especially those on the margins.
In the past couple of weeks, in the Lectionary, we’ve talked about the lawyer asking Jesus about the greatest commandment, and we’ve heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, how everyone is our neighbor and having eyes to see and ears to hear.
We’ve also seen Jesus’ compassion for humanity, for Jesus’ desire to love well and to see folks grow into their true selves, the persons they were created to be in God’s image. We’ve also seen Jesus’ frustration when folks are prevented by cultural norms, or unjust systems, that prevent them from fully being in community with others or having the chance to reach their God-given potential. We’ve seen Jesus reach out with compassion, not just with words, but with action.
So, Jesus arrives at Mary and Martha’s house, close friends of his. Jesus has been involved in their lives, even raising their brother Lazarus from the dead at some point as depicted in the book of John.
While at their house, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while he shared, while Martha was busy with certain household tasks. After a while, Martha gets frustrated because she’s doing all of the work and Mary is seemingly just sitting there, so Martha makes this statement to Jesus about Mary leaving her to all of the work.
Well, before we go into what we read on the surface, it would be good to understand some of the underlying messages. In Jesus’ day, women were expected to do certain tasks, to work on the household maintenance, sitting at the feet of a Rabbi or a teacher and learning about the word of God, was not expected of a woman. This is another example of Jesus making a statement about equality and inclusion, that women were to be included in everything, including education. Today, it is hoped, that we take that for granted, but it hasn’t always been so, and it’s important that we not only confront racism, classism, and most ‘ism’s” but, we still have to be vigilant in addressing sexism.
Jesus is friends with both Mary and Martha, he loves them both. I’m sure that Martha’s work was very important, needed to get done. Yet, she also allowed her pride, anxiety, and the many things on her mind to take over, to cloud her vision of her love for her sister. She also wanted to exert some sense of control over her sister, and even Jesus. Calling him out with a passive aggressive statement about her sister.
Yet, Jesus has a very loving response, he doesn’t jump on the anxiety train, he doesn’t put Martha down, he doesn’t talk about her behind her back, he simply calls out her anxiety and takes the heat off of Mary. And, I believe that the way that Jesus says this, its not only direct, but it seems to me to be written by the author in a tone that says it’s ok. Jesus keeps the bridge open relationally with Martha.
When people complain, it’s easy to want to correct them or get defensive. Yet, Jesus gives us an example of how to listen, confront the issue, and then point out a deeper truth. It doesn’t necessarily say that Martha has an “ah-ha” moment, but we do know that they continue in relationship and life moves forward.
The need for one thing in this story is Presence. Mary is not only learning about the word of God, she is literally sitting in God’s presence. That’s something that we all have access to…we may not always recognize it, but it’s something that won’t be taken away from us, ever. Jesus states that it won’t be taken away from Mary, and the same is true for us.
This story is especially true for me…I know in my personality enneagram (3), that it’s important for me to unwind, unplug, take in Jesus’ words of encouragement, and practice sabbath rest. I value my time on Friday mornings to do just that. I may or may not have my phone, but I almost always take a nap, do some reading, journal, and run. And, remember a bit of who I am and reflect upon my week.
My personality, my M.O. if you will, is to move forward, to be a practitioner. I can often be driven towards some measurement for success and can easily become a workaholic, burning myself out and others.
There is good in getting things done, I value that, and I value competency and efficiency. But, I’ve also learned through years of practicing sabbath, of taking time off, going to the Monastery or other retreat centers, stopping and simply sitting for a while, that I can learn and grow and be attentive to God’s flow in my life and in the work God’s doing around me.
I think it’s also an important ethos for us a church…both in a local context and global context. Again, it’s important to get things done, to do something. Yet, we also have to live in the tension as a church of simply being and letting go…that requires a lot of trust and faith that God’s faith in us is sufficient, and that God, the creator, sustainer, redeemer is speaking to us, giving us imagination and moving us in beautiful directions.
I’ve said this before, one of the things why I believe God led me to Fleming Road UCC and Fleming Road UCC to me was this sense of possibility. I wanted to be in a church that has a potential for being community engaged, a church willing to take risks on opening its doors to the community, and even walking out those doors into the community around us. A church willing to sit with God and with others to listen to God’s word, and to have ears to hear it even if it comes from all sorts of places and voices inside and outside the church.
I’ve done lots of programs, I’ve been busy in my 30+ years of doing some sort of ministry. I’ve seen metrics of large numbers come and go, it’s been fun in many ways, as well as exhausting and at times, having a certain sense of temporary community. But, I love being at Fleming Road UCC at this crossroads in church history. As a church universal, we are learning to listen as Mary listened, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus in people’s homes, in community gathering spots, and we see God’s love flow into us and through us. This isn’t a new program, this isn’t a scalable new initiative that has false promises of some type of measurable metrics, this is simply listening, being loved, and then loving others and moving towards some sense of action that blesses others, and, in so doing, seeing community happen, loving our neighbors well with new imagination, and seeing ourselves grow internally and externally in ways we’ve really always wanted to grow.
I’ve loved the work of our New Parish Roundtable the past year +…As we sit with each other, engage in conversation, and as we experiment, and as we continue to invite others in the congregation into this process, we are seeing and hearing God’s gentle nudge.
As we sit, may we hear God’s voice leading us towards God and towards folks that need to be loved and included…which, really, is everyone in our neighborhoods!
Homework: find a space to sit, and to intentionally listen with both your ears and eyes to what God may be doing in your life, and in the lives of those around you. Some you may know their stories, others you may wonder. But, practice active listening to your heart and where your heart connects with others.