“Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”. Why don’t you just insert my name… “Anna, Anna you are worried and distracted by many things”? Or how about if we put your name in the sentence…is it somehow ringing true? What is it about this line that gets our attention and becomes that nagging inner voice?
More than ever we are an overstimulated, hyper-communicative group of multi-taskers. We Facebook, email, Tweet and voice-to-text in order to talk to each other. We don’t read books, but instead have mini computers in the form of kindles and tablets to read from. We have our ears plugged with little speakers to listen to our music and podcasts while working out, walking around the block and shopping in the grocery store. And how much stuff can we do and think about at once? Can we balance our checkbook online while listening to a podcast and folding towels? Yes. Can we have someone on speaker phone (or Bluetooth), drive, and eat lunch in the car all at once? Yes. And we’re proud of all this! We’re proud because somehow it makes us more efficient, we get more accomplished, we stay busy, and nothing gets overlooked. Whew! And then we hear that little voice “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”.
The story of Mary and Martha used to bug me. It bugged me because I identify as a Martha. Martha is the queen of hospitality. Martha is busy and gets things done. Martha is your “go to girl”. There’s a lot to like and respect about Martha. But Martha appears to be the one who comes up short in this story and Mary gets the praise for having chosen the “better things”. “Better things”?! She’s sitting around while Martha is doing all the work! And that’s why it bugged me…I didn’t want to be a scolded Martha.
But let’s think about these two sisters a little more. Yes, Martha is busy, hospitable and she gets things done. In our modern world, she might represent the person who is actively involved in the church and community. We’ll call her an “activist”. Mary, on the other hand, is a listener and a student. In our modern world, she might represent the person in the church community as the “contemplative”…her focus is on prayer, reflection, and deep listening.
For a long time I thought Mary and Martha were opposites being contrasted, but really they are a model for our life in community…you need both Mary and Martha to be a fully participating, mature Christian. You need both the “activist” and the “contemplative”.
I remember in seminary taking a classes on the theology and practice of the Eucharist from Lizette Larson-Miller and Louis Weil. And I remember them spending a lot of time on specific phrases of prayers. In Eucharistic Prayer C, just before the Lord’s Prayer, the priest says:
Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
In other words, help us to see you Jesus. Help us to not only sit at your feet and learn, but also help us to go out into the world to be your disciples.
The closing prayers are prayers of both thanksgiving and petition…thank you for feeding us with this spiritual food and now we go out into the world to do the work God has called us to do.
We come not only to listen, feast and be restored, but we also come to be empowered to work. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and. Mary and Martha is not a story of either-or, but a story of both-and. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus so we can be fulfilled and do our work.
“Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”. And yet, even after being nourished with the spiritual food of Christ’s Body and Blood, sometimes we’re still grumpy with the Mary’s of the world. Why is this? Because we are worried and distracted by many things. We are overstimulated, hyper-communicative and multitasking. But what if, even in our work, we took a moment to pause? What if we took a moment and stretched, looked out the window, took a deep breath, and listened for that still small voice of God? We need to nurture our Mary-side. We need to stop and listen so that we can keep going. This is the Christian life. We cannot ignore our Mary-side.
So as we approach the table for Eucharist today, I invite you to just take a moment. Put the mental “to-do” list on hold. All the things that have you worried and distracted from the presence of God…just put them on hold. Now take a deep breath. Breathe in from the bottom of your belly. Hold it for a second. Now breathe out…feel the presence of God in your midst. You have chosen the better part.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.