Luke 10, 38 - 42
Something to read
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
King James Version
Now as they went on their way, he 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.’
New Revised Standard Version
Something to think about
There are two ways to entertain guests: giving them sustenance, choice food and drink; and giving them attention. Had Martha joined Mary at Jesus’s feet, Jesus might have gone hungry.
Conversely, had Mary joined Martha, banging away in the kitchen, the chances are that Jesus would have slipped quietly away to somewhere more welcoming.
The point is that, as recounted here, Martha’s way was not wrong, nor even that Mary’s way was better (well, perhaps a little better); it’s that there was no reason to grumble.
When people are visited by God (and you can interpret that encounter in any way you like), their reactions can vary wildly.
Sometimes they want to give something, and such generosity makes God so very happy — as long as the giving is genuine, and not a means of controlling the encounter, or of hanging back just outside the room, in the kitchen of familiarity.
Sometimes people want to take, listening quietly, and such openness makes God very happy, too — as long as that taking is genuine, and not a mask for passivity or laziness.
So, to Jesus’s reaction: he reprimands Martha (though in a nice way): ‘You are anxious and troubled about many things’ — this is her first fault, and trying to offload this anxiety on to Mary is a secondary matter.
Would Jesus have said anything if Martha’s approach had been a happy bustle rather than a grumpy clatter?
Something to do
Martha wanted Jesus to act like a referee, never a task he let himself be manoeuvred into. It’s important to acknowledge different people’s different responses to God, and it’s a shame that church events seem designed to put them all on display. Today’s action, then, is something not to do: don’t grumble.
Something to pray
‘Mary sat at Jesus’s feet, and heard his word’ (KJV)
Lord, help us to perform the practical tasks before us with joy and willingness. Help us, too, to know when to put these tasks aside unfinished, to sit at your feet and listen to your word. Amen
Today’s contributor is Paul Handley, Managing Editor of The Church Times