Year C, Pentecost 6 Luke 10:38-42
Ever since the story of Martha and Mary was first read, it has been interpreted and misinterpreted in about 100 different ways. Often times Mary and Martha are pitted against one another. You are either Mary or Martha. And if you are Martha, you better learn how to be more like Mary. Books like: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Martha Home in a Mary Way, Made Like Martha: Good News for the Woman Who Gets Things Done—have oversimplified this story. (At least the titles have.)
People have used this story to create archetypes for all women—you are either Mary or Martha. Mary is the devoted learner who sits at Jesus’ feet as a disciple would. Martha is the worker bee who can’t be bothered to stop and listen because she has too much to do. At times, people seem to be trying to use this story to describe the right and wrong way to be a disciple.
But really, it’s about different ways of being a disciple and the challenges that arise when all of the preoccupations of our life get in the way of being in relationship with God. There is little doubt that Martha was a wonderful disciple of Jesus. Showing hospitality was incredibly important at that time. One doesn’t have to look any further than the story we have from the Old Testament when Abraham drops everything to help three strangers wandering by his tent. Anyone who has spent any time volunteering in the church knows that a lot of what needs to be done is the very stuff that Martha was doing.
Then why would Jesus be critical of Martha? I am not sure that is what is really happening here. Notice that he’s not criticizing her for what she is doing, not even for what she is complaining about. He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things….” If you look at the Greek that this Gospel was originally written in, you might note that better translation would be: “Martha, Martha, you are completely freaking out.” The Greek word that is translated to worried is describing someone absolutely panicked.
This was more than just dinner party stress. It was stomach churning, headache producing—panic. I am sure there were a variety of things contributing to the panic. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are at the point in the Gospel when Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. Just a few chapters before, Jesus had started talking about his imminent death. Maybe Martha was thinking this might be the last time she would see him and here she is doing the dishes when what she desperately wanted to do was sit at his feet like her sister Mary. But something was stopping her.
When Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part and that was not to be taken away from her—he wasn’t minimalizing what Martha had accomplished. He was simply reminding Martha that there was a better part to play at that moment. There was something else she could be doing. There was a way to step away from the anxiety and panic. We don’t know how Martha responded, but I hope she sat down for a few minutes, to absorb God’s presence. Because there he was, the very embodiment of peace, the balm for her weary soul. All she had to do was stop for a minute and listen.
If it was hard for Martha to find peace when she was in the presence of God in the flesh, it is no wonder that we have a hard time releasing ourselves from the burden of anxiety in times such as these. I could start listing the many anxiety provoking things going on in our world, but I fear that would not be helpful. We all know what is causing us anxiety because it seems to be constantly with us. With the advent of smart phones, it’s impossible to step away even for a moment. And it’s not just smart phone causing the problems. The pandemic has intensified all of life’s challenges.
In the last 2 years, the number of adults with anxiety disorders has increased by 26%. The number of children with an anxiety disorder has doubled over the course of the pandemic. The number of people with mental health issues was increasing before the pandemic. The pandemic simply accelerated the mental health crisis in our country. The rates of depression have also increased exponentially, but that is a conversation for another time. The point is that we are in anxious times.
Many people wonder why Martha went to Jesus to complain about her sister rather than going directly to her sister to ask for help. I think it was because she knew that that the help she needed was not the help Mary could provide. She needed (like we all need) Jesus’ help. She needed healing for her mind—a peace that passes all understanding.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing…” The word for distracted also means to be pulled in many different directions. Even when we were in part of the pandemic when we were all locked down and limited in what we could do and where we could go, our minds were still being pulled in different directions. When that happens, our lives become so fragmented, we can barely remember what the big picture is. For Martha, the big picture was right in front of her—God incarnate. For us, the big picture—God’s purpose for our lives is a little more elusive. We may hear God calling our name, but it’s a lot easier to ignore.
This is a hard sermon for me to preach because I struggle with anxiety. I find that the distractions of life can consume me at times. I wonder. I wonder if we could find a way to be distracted by God. If our distractions have started to consume us, what if we found small ways to let God break through and distract us from our own fears and anxieties?
|My view from traffic
That will look different for each one of us. What I know is that God’s peace is here, in this place. I felt it the first time I walked in. I feel it when the light passes through the windows in a new and glorious way. God’s peace is out there in our cemetery where the names of those who have passed on to the next life surround us. God’s peace is looking out over the water (even when on the HRBT) when the sun hits the water in a way that makes you forget you are sitting in traffic.
God’s peace is everywhere, if we look for it. Take some time to consider what thing or person or place distracts you enough to experience some peace and then make some space in your life for opportunities to search for God presence. When you have found that presence (that peace that passes all understanding)— bask in it. Even for a moment. Because that moment, that moment leads to other moments and those moments are the ones that will save you.