Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "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."
We live in a fast past world, a world that is always moving and never seems to take a break. There's work; there are sports, there's family, friends, drama that comes out of nowhere and many other things that are filling up our overwhelmed grey matter. And the ironic thing is that the technology, that was thought to make our lives easier, actually ties us closer to all these other moving parts making "unplugging" all the more difficult. With all these things that we find ourselves juggling, how do we add time for Jesus? Or I guess the question we should ask ourselves this morning is how do we make time for Jesus, how do we make time for ourselves to take a step back and simply breath?
For this morning's passage, I like to think about my own experience with hosting people for a dinner party, usually an affair for family and friends. While I may not seem like a perfectionist, I like to dedicate myself to doing something well, so if that's cooking a meal for family or friends, you better believe I'm going to do my best. But sometimes that desire to do good is overcome by an obsession, an inappropriate feeling you might say, to focus solely on that one task of making a good meal. And if this feeling goes unchecked, it can lead to some expressions of annoyance and frustration. However, this feeling only appears when I lose sight of what matters, which at that moment is fellowship.
It should be noted that I think Martha has gotten a lot of grief over the years to an undeserving degree. Who wouldn't be excited and attentive to the details of their house if they knew that Jesus was coming over for a meal? Imagine being in Martha's place and how you would want to make sure that everything was just right and feeling frustrated that people weren't helping you out the way you wanted them. You might yell out from the kitchen, "Hey, can I get a little help here, please?" Martha might have had the best of intentions when she asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?" But the thing is that we, like Martha, get sidetracked, and instead of placing our hearts into the hands of God, we try to invest ourselves in more ways than what is viable.
The problem we encounter this morning is not Martha's desire to serve and provide hospitality to her guests. Certainly we remember, even from last week's reading about the Good Samaritan, that Jesus lifts this kind of service to those who are our neighbors. But like I said Martha's service is not in and of itself the problem, the problem lies in the fact that in the course of Martha's work she was plagued by distractions. The Greek word periespato has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in multiple directions. Any one of us could speak to what it feels like when we try and juggle numerous things at once. Sometimes we're successful, but other times we find that the things we've been juggling end up on the floor in a jumbled mess.
We hear Jesus speaking to us, calling out to us, this morning, "[Y]ou are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing." When these words are spoken to Martha, they aren't meant to serve as a criticism. On the contrary, they are intended to be a reassurance that no matter how much Martha does or how well she does it, she is still a beloved, valued, and cherished child of God. We need to hear these words ourselves. We too need the reassurance that regardless of how much we do and how well we do it, we are still a beloved child of God. This kind of grace is a skill that benefits not only ourselves but those around us as well. It's a grace that reminds us that God will work with what we have and that we need not punish ourselves when we think we've failed.
In this past week's midweek reflection, I posed the question, "When was the last time you unplugged?" It's a question I pose to you again today because it fits with this mornings reading from the Gospel According to Luke. When was the last time you unplugged? When was the last time you purposely set aside all the things that you're juggling to take a moment for yourself and create a time for you and God to be with one another? Setting aside moments for ourselves to breathe, to pray, to sit in silence or serenity shouldn't be viewed as an indulgence, but instead a priority. We need that time to pray, to ask for guidance, and to process the events of the day and center ourselves.
That time we intentionally set aside to be with God is the one thing that we need daily, and it's the thing that will sustain us, nurture us, give us the insight and creativity to look out towards the future. While there are a lot of things that are vying for our attention, we will never be able to attend to all of them if we burn ourselves out in the process. We were never meant to go all out 24/7 because it's just not healthy in both a spiritual and physical sense. Of course, doctors and psychologist will tell you that, but even God tells us that as well. God didn't work for six days and then tacked on six more. No God rested after creating and tells us to take time for rest and rejuvenation as well.
Perhaps it would be better to think about the story of Martha and Mary as a tale of two models of discipleship coming together to form a whole. You see if we don't have a vision of what God is doing or what God desires for our lives, then we'll eventually get beaten down. Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to the words he offers, listens to the vision the hope, and without those words from Jesus, we can't go on, like Martha, in doing the good work of providing hospitality and love for the world. If we lose sight of the one thing that guides our heart it will do more than distract us, it will worry us, make us angry and bitter, and it will tire us to the point of exhaustion. Spending time with Jesus, taking a break from the chaotic work of our lives, we'll find that we have a renewed sense of purpose and that we can then prepare meals for the hungry, care for the sick, and show hospitality to the stranger, and keep on loving our neighbors in the name of Christ.
Who do we neglect when we don't set our hearts, our minds on God? Jesus is there to remind us, like Martha, that much of what vyes for our attention and energy is not deserving of our time and resources. The message we hear over and over again from Jesus is that we need to be who we are, that we need to live in the transforming grace of God and take to heart what the means for our daily living. In other words, there are moments when we need to offer the distracting things in our lives to God so we can hit the "reset" / “rest” button. If we can do that the other parts of discipleship will fall into place, the tempting call of our distractions will lose their power. And the urge to resent or blame our "siblings" will lessen as well. And perhaps more importantly our inclination to neglect the needy, exploit the poor, and trample others will yield to the redemptive love of God, because we've sat at Christ's feet, listening to every word, and after listening we will realize that we can't help but see the face of Christ in all those whom we meet.
We can't love another, and we can't serve one another, we can't be patient and graceful with one another if we are at our wit's end. In our listening to God, in the silent moments or in the moments when we feel at peace, our spirits are renewed. In our doing God's will, serving others and loving as God loves us, then we will find that our lives are balanced and become more well rounded. But being intentional about the time we come to be with Jesus is a skill that takes practice and takes patience. And as we look at this story that talks about Mary and Martha we might be wondering how it all ends, because being creatures of curiosity we might think it would be helpful to see how this all pans out.
In a manner that is consistent with the stories of Jesus, this one is left suspended. We don't know what happens; next, we don't know whether Martha and Mary were able to reconcile, and we don't know if they eventually sat down to eat the meal that Martha had prepared. While we might never know what indeed happened to Martha and Mary, we do know that Jesus invites all of us who fear about life's uncertainty and are distracted to come and sit for a while and rest in the presence of God. We are invited to rest and know peace and know that what we do, to whatever degree of our ability, is enough for God, because we are cherished beings.
So the next time we find that we are feeling a little too burdened remember that there is one thing that needs our attention to our guests and ourselves, both things requiring a balanced heart and soul. And if we do so we will discover, our guest might also be our host (i.e. God), who comes with abundant gifts to give to all who are gathered at the table, gifts that soothe and encourage our weary bodies and souls. Amen.