Mary and Martha
“Now as they went on their way, he [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘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).
In the story, Jesus stays at the home of close friends. As Mary listens to Jesus talking, Martha is concerned about preparing a meal for their guest and resents that Mary has left the work to her. Notice that Martha feels sufficiently comfortable with Jesus to scold him, and he wasn’t grouchy in return.
In modern psychology we might say Martha was “projecting” her anxiety on Jesus. She felt pressured and impatient by the meal and assumed Jesus was also impatient, which he wasn’t.
I do this all the time, and other folks do, too. When any of us feel this way, we imagine that a situation is more dire and urgent than it is, and we end up inflicting our unhappiness on others.
In those days, students often sat at the feet of the teacher. But in those days, students weren’t usually women. So Mary may have seemed lazy to Martha, and also audacious and inconsiderate. Thus Jesus assured that Mary’s choice of being a student “will not be taken away from her.”
Martha also had a heart full of worry. In another passage, Matthew 13:22, Jesus points out that many people hear his teachings but “the cares of the world” “choke” those teachings like seeds which cannot grow. Here in Luke’s gospel, Jesus calls his teachings “the better part,” which Mary has chosen. Mary didn’t allow her cares to define her and rule her life, in order to learn from Jesus’ presence and teaching.
This is a good lesson for us, too. Sometimes we’re indeed very busy, and our lives seem out of control. We’re too busy to listen, and we begin to think no one cares—even Jesus!
Listen to Jesus
Jesus doesn’t call us to stop working altogether, nor to stop serving. (Notice that the story of the Good Samaritan immediately precedes this story.) But Jesus does call us to be able to recognize him in the different aspects of our lives, and to listen for his guidance and faithful presence as we go about our work and business.
Jesus, help us avoid the anxiety and distractions of the work you call us to. Help us recognize your presence and listen to you as we complete our tasks. Amen.