Three loads of laundry, lawn mowed, shopping done and of course they took time to help an elderly neighbor. Take a break sinner! Jesus says stop being so busy!
Here’s the problem with drawing that conclusion from this story… the story of Martha and Mary directly follows the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And their placement isn’t likely coincidental.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus leads us to see that it is the person who actually stops to help who is being a good neighbor. The holy ones who walk on by aren’t modeling Christ’s compassion. We learn that it is the man who jumps into action who tends to the wounds of the victim, who finds him a place of rest, who pays. He is the one who is truly the neighbor.
So we leave this story with – go and do.
And then Luke takes us right into today’s account.
Martha, a sister of Lazarus, invites Jesus to come into their home. Undoubtedly, Jesus is traveling with many people, so Martha jumps into the work of being a good host. It is fair to assume that she is cleaning and cooking for more than a dozen people. And as she is working to make everything right – her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus teach.
Martha keeps working. Jesus continues to teach. And Mary soaks in all the time with their honored guest.
Finally, Martha reaches a breaking point. She approaches Jesus to get His help in correcting Mary’s selfish behavior.
But instead of chastising Mary Jesus says “She has chosen well.”
So we leave this story with – sit and listen.
Go and do… sit and listen, which is it supposed to be?
Some of us feel our holiest when we are serving others. We jump at the chance at doing something. We never shy away from the chance to help a friend move in or move out. We’re quick to visit a family member who is ill. In fact, for us, being in worship can be a challenge because we tend to think that there might be something more useful we could be doing with this time.
Others of us feel most spirit-filled when we can spend a day away in meditation, maybe out in nature reading Scripture and taking a time out to recognize God’s presence. Quiet reflection makes us feel closest to God.
A careful reading of today’s Gospel lesson gives us some insight into which is truly the better choice.
The words which Jesus used to describe Martha are important here. She was distracted, she was anxious, and she was troubled. Those are all mental states which relate to her service. She was not joyful, nor was she reverent, and she did not apparently see her service as something which was given to God in the same way as Mary’s intense listening. Instead it was in some sort of competition with her sister’s listening.
So what Jesus is saying isn’t go and do, and it isn’t sit and listen.
He is saying: Focus on me!
We are not really called to choose between doing what Mary or Martha did. Both could be serving, faithful, and holy. But we are called to faith – in whatever we have put before us today. Is it service, than it is service to Him. Is it listening? Than it is listening to him. Is it suffering? Paul even tells us that such suffering is in Him.
By putting these two accounts side by side Luke is making sure that we do not moralize the issue. We can’t walk away with the notion that it is better to do and those who aren’t frequently serving are somehow weaker Christians. We also can’t walk away with the idea that it is best to be in study and those who aren’t in study as often have a lesser commitment to Christ.
I received a humbling reminder of this from my father in law. When I decided to enroll in my pastoral program many years ago Leslie and I drove to his house to share our exciting news in person. I can remember standing in his back yard as he was working on his tractor.
I said, “Dad, I’ve decided I want to become a pastor to help people.”
He cocked his head to one side and squinted as if he was looking at something else that needed to be fixed -- and he asked me,
“How will you ever help someone as a pastor?”
I still don’t have a great answer for that, but I’m working on it. The point is this, there is a temptation to place our personal choice as the pre-eminent and use it to judge others as not meeting our standard, or to feel badly about ourselves because we have chosen a different path than our family and friends. When we do this, we are making our choice our god. We’re making the choice the important thing, and that’s a problem.
It is really a first commandment issue. Thou shall have no other gods before me.
In the Large Catechism Luther explains this by saying:
“Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself, will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone else.”
In Christ we have glorious freedom. By His blood we are set free, free to live a life in relationship with God our Father, God our Creator, God our Redeemer and God our Savior.
And because of that freedom, it is always the heart behind our choices that matter to God. Is Jesus on your heart and in your mind? Because if He isn’t you can’t possibly make the right decisions.
But if Jesus is your center, your decisions whether wise to the world or not, will always bring God joy.
Mary soaked in Jesus words as if they were all she needed to know. The Samaritan was moved by holy compassion and divine mercy. Neither one looked around to see what everyone else was doing. Neither relied on outside approval or praise to know what was right.
Jesus on your heart and in your mind gives you the freedom to make great choices. To God be all the glory! Amen!
Pastor Mark Ball