Mary, Martha, And The Third Way (Sermon on Luke 10:38-42)

by jpserrano on July 21, 2013 · 0 comments

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I lived in Los Angeles, you wouldn’t believe some of the things I saw people do while driving down the freeway.

I have seen men drink coffee out of one hand, read the newspaper in another, with their elbows on the wheel, while clearly talking into their bluetooth headsets. I have seen women expertly put on make-up, while eating a bagel. This one woman would take both hands off the wheel every time she took a bite.

We live in a society where multi-tasking is the norm, where operating with a divided mind is a highly praised skill. This ideology has even infected our online presence. I came across this Facebook status this last week . A friend of my wife posted, “You know, sometimes I am exhausted by 5 minutes on Facebook. Then I realize that if I had an in-person conversation about international politics, was handed 4 cartoons, watched someone’s cat do something funny right in front of me, meet two new babies in the hallway, congratulated a friend on a wedding, saw someone leave the country, and read two articles that changed someone else’s life, I would have had a full emotional day. And this was only 5 minutes–no wonder I’m tired!”

I wonder if we aren’t trying to do too much. I wonder if our lives are pulled in too many directions, without some kind of center.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus enters into the house of Martha who welcomes him hospitably. Mary sat with Jesus listening to what he said. Martha had many tasks. Immediately, we can see in this story that Mary and Martha are being held side by side contrasting their actions. Martha with her many tasks and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. There are many of us who immediately identify with one or the other. Two Ideas of Hospitality Part of this story is two competing understandings of hospitality.

Martha’s hospitality was very much in line with the cultural norms of the day. She had many tasks to accomplish in order to be a good host beginning with washing Jesus’ feet. And since Jesus went everywhere with a group of at least 12 guys, Martha would have prepared a meal for at least 15 people.

Can you picture Martha doing the equivalent of everything we do today? When Jess and I were in school AND working, the only time we got around to cleaning cleaning was when we had a guest come over. Well a couple months ago, it had been a while since we thoroughly cleaned our place, and there was a lot of stuff to do: tidy up the bathrooms, make the beds, dust the TV, vacuum the floor, clean under the burners on the stove . . . We assigned everybody in our house a job including our youngest son Benny. Well, the first question we got was, “Who’s coming over?” No matter how much we tried to convince the kids that we were cleaning only because it needed to be done, they would not believe us. Every new assigned job came with the question, “No really, who’s coming over? Is it Nana? Is it Papi?” They just couldn’t believe that we wanted their help with that much work.

Well, Martha had a lot going on and needed to work hard in order to show Middle Eastern hospitality to Jesus.

Mary, on the other hand, is completely unhelpful in Martha’s plan for hospitality. She shows hospitality toward Jesus in a different way, by listening to his every word. And if you’ve ever spent any long period of time with religious teachers, you know their words can go on and on, or at least that’s what my wife says.

Mary listens to the Lord / Martha provides a welcoming home.

I think both of these are valid and are equally important when Jesus comes over.

Martha’s Condition
But, something in the story changes. It isn’t just about two good ways of hospitality. Martha is not content with the state of affairs in her home and the condition of her heart is revealed. Martha provided hospitality to be sure, but the scripture says that “Martha was “distracted” by her many tasks.

The word in Greek for distracted here (pereespato- περιεσπᾶτο) means more than just an inability to concentrate. The word means: to be pulled or dragged away.

Martha isn’t distracted only by the tasks of hospitality; she is pulled internally in two different directions because she is working harder than Mary. She wants Mary to do what she’s doing, to fall in line with the social customs of the day, to be just like her. Martha is distracted because she is comparing herself to her sister.

Can you hear it when she says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Things don’t usually go well for us when we tell God what to do, and it’s no different for Martha.

Jesus responds to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and pulled apart by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus being Mary. She was not concerned with other things; she was concerned only about drinking from the living water that Jesus offers those who hear him. She wasn’t comparing herself to her sister, thinking, “Oh, maybe I should help.” She knew where she wanted to be and was not divided in spirit about her decision. Mary recognized that she needed to give her focus to the words of Jesus. She needed to stop doing anything else. She knew the time and place for worship and the time and place for work, and she didn’t mix the two. She chose the better part. Mary understood in that moment that listening to the words of Jesus, hearing the transformative news about the Kingdom of God and the love of the Father is primary and life giving.

Martha was divided. She was divided because she wanted her sister to being doing what she was doing. She was divided because she felt like she was getting the short end of the stick. She was divided because listening to Jesus was just another task she had to complete.

Friends, like Martha we can’t recognize God showing up in our house when listening to God is just one more thing on our to-do list. When we have many tasks to be taken care of and we add weekly worship, or prayer, or any other “spiritual act” to the list, then we like Martha want others to join in the sin of our busyness and add things to their to-do list.

God does not show up in our to-do lists.
God shows up in his Word. Mary understood that.
God shows up in the Good News. Mary sat at his feet.
God shows up in the sacraments, and we come before the altar trusting that God gives himself to us in bread and wine.

But, I don’t think we have to be only a Mary or a Martha. I think it’s a false dichotomy to say that the only way is unchecked busyness or spiritual seclusion.

Though I highly recommend taking a moment out of your day to be mindful of God in your life, I understand that there is a lot to accomplish in the day and not a lot of time to do it. There is a third way, rather than being solely a Mary or a Martha.

The Third Way
Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived in the sixteenth century, wrote, “The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

Brother Lawrence did the work of Martha in the kitchen but had the heart of Mary.

The third way is being a person who stays in the business of life but transforms it to holy action. Scripture beckons us to this way of life. Colossians reads, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your human masters” (Col 3:23). Ephesians says, “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to humans” (Eph 6:7).

Our daily work whether it be in schools, homes, offices, or machine shops can become holy moments where we are sitting at the feet of Jesus while in the midst of work. Brother Lawrence also says, “Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. God is always near you and with you.”

Here are two ways that you can begin to practice God’s presence.

1. Begin your day intentionally. Luther recommended this. “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This small act can set the tone of your day by beginning it in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

2. Turn the mundane into holy. Ask God while in the midst of your activity to open up your eyes to see His presence in whatever you’re doing.

This third way isn’t to be an addition to your already busy lives.

It isn’t another thing to add on to the tired feeling you get even when you’re on Facebook for 5 minutes.

This third way can transform our perception, showing us the holiness in each moment. Jesus is with us Jesus says, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Good News, friends, is that Jesus is with us always. Whether we are busy like Martha or attentive like Mary, Jesus enters our homes.

Friends, May you know that God is always with you.
May you see God amidst the busyness of your lives and May you come to recognize that Jesus is in your home no matter what. Amen.

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