Lesson from the Sisters
by Ken Dale
Last Sunday we heard and reflected upon that fond and familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. That lesson, where Jesus vividly and actually scandalously illustrates true spirituality, actually continues in the story before us today of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. While it does not tell us that Martha was the older of the two, it is a safe assumption that is the case. Birth order can tell us a lot. I?m no expert but I read that Martha has all the characteristics and then some of a Type A first-born sibling. She pro-actively invites Jesus into her home and then dives head first into serving him making sure that everything is perfect and appropriate. She is worried about the details and pleasing him ? but can?t relax enough to enjoy his presence with them. I?m not sure about it all ? I had an older brother, I don?t remember him being like that and I share what Pam Gormley taught me is called ?event cleaning.? Every now and then you invite some people over for dinner because you?ll get your house cleaned up to perfection. More?often than not I plan a dinner that inevitably keeps me in the kitchen or at least my mind is in the kitchen so everything is ?just right.? But I?m not a first-born child. A timely point, I think, a word of caution when?we think we know more than we actually know about any given person familiar or not ? call it profiling, jumping to conclusions ? yes, maybe sometimes it?s accurate ??but what if it?s not? We really need to take the time it takes to get to actually know.
Martha?s focus is not a bad thing in and of itself. Psychologist and author Dr. Kevin Leman asserts that this perfectionist bent on life may come from extra attention to mom and dad accounting for the fact that so many presidents, astronauts, and leaders are in general first-borns. They strive to meet expectations. This is the case for Martha. And of course those who live free from the burden of expectation become a source of deep irritation ? and such is the case with Mary for Martha. Martha gets to the point where she goes into the room and she speaks not to Mary but to Jesus. ?Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.? Seems to?me that was a moment called ?ooooops!?
But when Jesus answers Martha?s concern about Mary he does?not quietly remind Mary of her place as a woman in that time. Instead, he says, ?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.?
?Mary?s approach to life is a complete contrast to Martha?s. In contrast, at least on this particular day, Mary knew the importance of pause ? of stopping. I read Mary was more of a middle child ? no problem showing up late because she had to stop to visit with a friend, one who can change plans on a dime just to scratch something off the bucket list. In this story Mary?s approach seems to be more in line with the priorities of the realm/kingdom of God. Perhaps for Martha, Mary?is so focused on heaven that she is of no earthly good. Mary is focused?on Jesus, Mary is focused on things spiritual. And Jesus says this is the ?better part? and if we read this passage in Eugene Peterson?s The Message he translates it ?the main course.? I think that?s actually quite helpful. If we are too much like Mary then nothing gets done. If we are too much like Martha we may be very busy but not know why or even what we are so busy about. If we keep spiritual things, the Word of God come to us in the flesh in Christ, our living relationship with God and?God?s presence with us — if we hold that as the ?main course? it may not be what our whole life is all about but it is that which will nourish and nurture every aspect of our living. I?ve seen the difference this makes in the lives of critically ill people ? the faith factor ? a constant awareness of God?s presence in whatever ways works for them.
In today?s world I think we need to be more intentional about that main course ? we do get too busy and because we?re so busy we don?t have time or make time for things spiritual. Jesus said it ?won?t be taken? but if we are not intentional about it I fear we will lose it ? and what is a meal without the main course?
It?s important to note that both sisters are simply trying to love their Lord ? one by doing and the other by being. Just as the Levite failed to love his neighbor in last week?s story of the Good Samaritan, hustling past the man in the ditch perhaps to get to choir practice, Martha failed to love the Lord by inviting him into her home only to get stuck in the kitchen. But remember an important point in last week?s story was that we love by doing. We are to love God ? and sometimes?God shows up in unexpected ways when we are given the opportunity to serve God by loving the least and the hurting, or the chance to learn from God by relying on God in our times of struggle and pain. This is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
This speaks to our life together as church ? we need the Mary?s and we need the Martha?s — sometimes we are one and sometimes the other ? and working together, joyfully sharing the gifts of who we are individually enables us to live out our faith to the fullest. A blind man was asked by a sympathetic woman, “Doesn’t being blind rather color your life?” The blind man replied, “Yes, but thank God, I can choose the color. And since I am responsible for my life, I’m going to keep on choosing the most beautiful colors I can.” What colors do we choose to see in our lives? What colors do you bring into focus that shade and signify your life? We are responsible for our lives ? do we bring spirituality into focus enough?
Spirituality is a broad term but I think in its broadness it captures a natural longing to touch or encounter that which is holy. It recognizes that we all have a divine spark within us and creates a profound connection that occurs in community when individuals come together and recognize the holy in each other. It is living our whole lives in relation to the holy. It is my hope and prayer that we continue to strive for a healthy spiritual life in all that we do.