Gospel of Luke 10: 38-42 (NIV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This short narrative, only in the Gospel of Luke, has been inserted into that Gospel as if it were an isolated incident. Conceivably it could be read simply at that level but more likely it is read at another level: as profound guidance from our Lord.
Martha, it seems, is the older sister and the one who has responsibility for the house and for what happens there. A recent incident in a palliative care situation bears witness to how “Martha was distracted by all the preparations”. The woman in palliative care had come to Australia decades ago as an adult from a Mediterranean country. She was distressed – but not because of her own illness and impending death. Her concern was that she was not able to be at home in order to fulfil her role (as she understood it) of taking care of all the family members who had arrived in order to visit her!
Do you identify with Mary? Do you identify with Martha? I suspect few reading this passage from Luke’s Gospel even think about the responses of the disciples who were accompanying Jesus and, as a consequence, were reliant on the hospitality extended by the two sisters.
I am much more a Martha than a Mary. I yearn to be a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, but there is just too much to be done! I am sure Jesus would say to me, “There will always be ‘too much to be done’. Spend time with me.”
Clergy are not merely encouraged but are required at least annually to go off to a quiet place in order to spend time sitting at the feet of Jesus. The laity should do this too. For some this is extremely difficult, especially when the demands of the world (attending to the dying and the bereaved, for example) claim a higher priority. We can relate so readily to the situation faced by Jesus in taking his disciples to a quiet place only to have crowds numbered in the thousands seeking him out (Matthew 14: 13).
How do we maintain the spiritual freshness that only comes from spending time with Jesus? In my experience, engaging daily in quiet moments with the word of God is essential. If one needs to rise early in order to guarantee quiet moments, so be it. Time in prayer and contemplation is essential for refreshment and encouragement at the spiritual level. Self-awareness allows us to know our personalities, our “default-settings”, and to ask God to lead us in his direction, along his paths, rather proceed along on our own.
How are your quiet-times? Are you naturally a Mary, or do you require the help of the Holy Spirit to ensure you are daily spending sufficient time with Jesus?