Doers May 8, 2014
This morning I found myself having a conversation with a recovery student who, I discovered, is reading a book recommended by a mentor, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”. She is finding the book thought provoking, as well as entertaining. This student reads a lot and loves well written phrases. She also journals daily and writes poetry. She was reading me excerpts from the book that were particularly powerful to her. Some of them were not only right on target from her experience and perspective, she said, but were also humorous. We both enjoyed the conversation.
Interestingly, “it just so happened” (as our pastor, Craig Carter, has been known to say with tongue in cheek as he referred to some work of God!) I awoke this morning with the thought of “doers” on my mind and the Martha and Mary story at the forefront of my thinking.
You probably know a few people who can easily be compared to an Energizer bunny……always doing or moving. My mother-in-law, early in my married years observed that I only had two speeds- full speed and quit. If I wasn’t moving, I was asleep; if I wasn’t asleep, I was moving. I was never diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. I was perfectly able to sit still in classes, in fact, I loved classes and studying and was a good student.
It has been clear for some time that, from at least from my high school years, when I attended summer school each year in order to finish high school early and move on to college, I have been task driven and moving toward…….what? I’m not sure. I seem to find satisfaction and contentment as long as I’m doing something, making progress, and achieving goals. It almost doesn’t matter what it is….my repertoire of interests is broad and I can find interest in learning and doing a variety of things. It’s not that I’m easily distracted and fail to complete things….I just find a lot of things interesting. And I generally do complete things, as attested to by my lists with little check marks by the items that litter my desk, purse, and car. (Keeping a clean car is not one of the things that interests me!)
Thinking about my own reputation as a “doer”, I was challenged by thinking about the Mary and Martha story.
At the Home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. ] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is a classic doer. And doing is not a bad thing. Jesus tells us to be “doers of the Word.” Perhaps Martha’s reputation as a gracious and generous hostess and her desire to provide well for her special guests factored into her sense of responsibility and preoccupation with the preparations that day.
But when the doing becomes a distraction, when it pulls us away from the ONE thing that is needed, and when it causes us to point to the activities of others with criticism or demands or breeds self-pity, then it has become bad. When one undertakes a power-play to coerce someone else to do one’s bidding, it has become a bad thing. Martha had “many things” about which she was worried and upset. The Lord saw this and set out to gently correct her and bring her back to the proper priority – worship……attentiveness to God’s purpose in the moment….. and a valuable opportunity to engage in a personal relationship that would not be available like this much longer.
Do you hear Jesus’ kind correction and loving appeal in his call to her, “Martha, Martha…” He first assures that he has her full attention through this double calling of her name. Consider how Martha suddenly realized that Jesus is fully focused on her and her needs. Then he puts his finger directly on her error – worry and being upset about many things- without condemning her, just factually calling it what it is. Then he reorients her priorities to the reality that few things are needed. There is only one thing that is truly needed at that moment.
It is only after her has spoken to Martha about her own circumstance that he points to Mary. And he doesn’t say that Mary has chosen the “good thing”, implying a contrast to what Martha might have interpreted as her “bad thing”. Jesus says Mary has chosen the “better thing”. Martha’s doing is not bad, it just is not the higher and better of the two options in the moment. Hospitality had a high value in Jesus’ and Martha’s culture. But hurrying about with worried demands that everything be perfect for the guests and that Mary should abandon her own desire to be present with Jesus was not how Jesus wanted Martha to experience his presence. Jesus set a boundary and refused to be drawn into Martha’s expectations and task-oriented focus.
Imagine how Martha may have quickly set what was completed on the table and stopped her self-pitying and demanding focus on the tasks that she thought needed to be done and Mary’s lack of concern for the things that concerned her. Imagine Jesus smiling at the sight of both sisters sitting with him and talking about the important things that he wanted to share with them. He was investing his time and himself in them. And he made it clear that they were to do the same. This is worship……..one thing that is needed.