I don’t know about you, but I often meet my spiritual kin in the pages of the Bible. Sometimes the identification is satisfying, even pleasing, though at other times I find the identity of my spiritual soulmates disturbing. Between Jesus’ good friends Mary and Martha, which is most likely my sister? And, what about for you? Both Mary and Martha were thrilled by Jesus’ visit to their household. But, each expressed her pleasure in a different manner. Jesus praised one and questioned the other.
Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet - assuming the position of a learner, ready and eager to benefit from is words. Jesus did not get to their house frequently. Few people had the privilege of enjoying private moments with Jesus and Mary was determined not to miss a single second of this wonderful opportunity.
Martha differed from Mary in her reception of Jesus. Martha busied herself with detailed preparations, wanting to assure that she responded to all of Jesus’ needs. In fact, amid her scurrying around to see that all was in order, Martha became perturbed by Mary’s inactivity.
When Martha requested that Jesus reprimand her sister for not helping her with a multitude of chores, Jesus responded in a surprising manner. “Martha, Martha,” he said, before explaining that she should not be so busy about many things when only one thing was needed. Jesus affirmed Mary’s focused attention and restive inaction. Jesus instructed Martha to get her priorities in order.
Invaluable wisdom emerges from the verses of this narrative about Jesus and the two sisters. Busyness is not synonymous with righteousness. Brainwashed by a go-go, do-do culture, many people - even people of faith - sweep aside concerns for being in deference to a preoccupation with doing. Fearing a close kinship with Martha, I have to recognize that Mary had chosen the better part in showing hospitality to Jesus. Quietly sitting and listening to the words of Jesus was far more important than frantically trying to provide for every perceived need of Jesus.
Take care with the implications of this truth, though. The point is that life has a rhythm to it. Lest someone decide to use this scripture to get out of doing the dishes, or to take part in the service projects of the church or town, we ought to remember that rest is not a diversion from labor, but an ingredient in life as essential to meaningful life as labor. A healthy relationship with God involves rest and labor, contemplation and action. Neither work nor rest should be exalted above the other.
Mary and Martha are both your sisters. May we all find a healthy balance between accomplishing what needs to be done and focusing our lives and our hearts on living a life of faith. Amen.