How do you feel just prior to their arrival? (and) What if they just dropped in?
Jesus’ day required hospitality at a moment’s notice. One should always be ready to receive the guest, and yet, could you be?
We know this story of Martha and Mary and their guest. Many of us can relate to Martha’s anxiety and distracted preparations. We sympathize with her on many levels and you’ve probably heard all kinds of takes on this story. (Maybe you’ve even thought of a few new ones on your own as you prepared for a last-minute guest.)
What this story is not: I think its worth mentioning what this story is NOT. It’s
NOT, about 2 sisters in opposition to each other –
NOT, a competition between 2 ways of being; contemplation and service,
As if they were two teams on a field in opposition to each other.
NOT, a commentary on gender, although it has been taken as such in both directions. One way was to put women in a passive role, so they would not be recognized as Christian servants or deacons. The other way to discount the service of women putting “women’s work” secondary to prayer and contemplation.
None of these things are the point of this story.
This story does seem to be evidence that women were disciples. “Sitting at Jesus’ feet” is a way of saying Mary was on the disciple path.
It IS another story about Jesus as a “unique” guest who once again has snubbed his host. As we’ve said before, you never knew what Jesus was going to do or say next. He was not a “politically correct visitor” by any means. His mission surpassed polite conversation.
This IS a story about balance for every disciple who calls himself or HERself a servant of Jesus. And (perhaps most of all)
It is a call to focus, for when we are focused on the ‘good thing,’ the ‘one thing,’ or the ‘better part,’ which is Jesus, our center, THEN we are empowered FOR service.
Such focus takes careful balance.
When I was on the Benedictine Pastoral Center Board, we held an event on the different ways of being spiritual. There were 12 different presenters over the course of the one-day event. Knowing that Brethren and Benedictines share many of the same values, the sisters and the board asked my colleague to present the final segment of the day - on balance.
Now, we were keeping some pretty crazy hours at church that year. When I heard he had accepted the request to speak on balance I laughed (LOL) and said that his idea of balance was that of a bicycle racer;
If you go fast enough you can LEAN as far as you want in either direction and stay upright. . .
Do you LEAN more one way than the other?
Do you find yourself drawn to hours of contemplation and unable to get anything done? OR Do you spend hours and hours at tasks and duties and find quiet time hard to come by? I believe we do tend to lean in one direction and this text calls us to a place of balance by asking us to FOCUS.
Altho many of us tend to lean toward the busy side, Jesus’ is not calling on Martha to forget her hospitality and sit down. While it seems like he is chiding her, he cares deeply and he notices that Martha is “distracted by many things”. He hears her child-like complaint against her sister and calls her back to her center.
“Martha, Martha, you are LEANING too far in one direction and you are going to crash.”
Jesus knows that “Worry and distraction” pulls us away from our center.
Service, when it becomes frantic, is not hospitable, no matter how nicely the table is set. Hospitality is about focus on the guest.
Hospitality offers a comfortable place of welcome.
Jesus relied on the hospitality of friends and even strangers. He didn’t need a 4-star hotel, just a place of welcome. Yes, there was work to do, and a meal to prepare, AND there was a guest to welcome.
This text is not against work, hospitality or service. After all, SERVICE is at the heart of the way we live out our discipleship.
TRUE Hospitality calls us away from a PLACE of “worry and distraction” to FOCUS on God, OUR ground and energy FOR effective service.[i]
Hospitality requires clear focus and it seems that in this short story, Mary was in balance because her FOCUS was on Jesus.
How often do we get out of balance in our lives and in our church work?
Cynthia James, a commentator on scripture, describes a typical situation,
“a church that has been led to be ‘worried and distracted by many things’ (v. 4.1) inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution. Decisions will be made in meetings without a hint of God’s reign.”[ii]
We are NOT the church Pastor James describes and let’s not LEAN that way. Yet it is a constant temptation or maybe a threat - to our spiritual journey as a congregation and as individuals to get out of balance with too much of a good thing. When in fact, the BEST thing, sits right before us, inviting us to pay attention and FOCUS.