Striking a Balance
The Rev. Robert Pierson
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
The story of Mary and Martha is probably one of the most well known stories in the Bible. And I would guess that many of us have heard sermons praising Mary for her more “contemplative” choice to sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha was “worried about many things.” As I ponder this story today, I want to make sure that we see both Mary and Martha as faithful disciples. They have different approaches to serving the Lord, and both approaches are needed in the church, as well as in our own individual lives.
I was visiting with my friend, Barbara Anne, last Sunday and we talked about the Mary and Martha story. She said something that I really liked and I want to share it with you. When Jesus said, “there is need of only one thing,” what he meant to say was something like: “We don't need a four course meal. A tuna fish sandwich would be plenty.” If that's an accurate interpretation of needing “only one thing” then what Jesus is saying is “Martha, you're trying to do too much. Why don't you relax a bit and follow Mary's example.”
Mary is not lazy, though Martha makes it sound like that. Mary is focussed on Jesus and his need to be heard. Martha would do well to follow suit, and in the end I think she does. Martha is a woman of strong faith, just like her sister Mary. Remember when Jesus comes to visit them after their brother Lazarus dies, it is Martha that comes out to meet him. And it is her faith that prompts her to say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died....I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha goes on to confirm her faith in Jesus as she says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So both Mary and Martha are faithful disciples, friends of Jesus, even though they model two different modes of discipleship. We need Martha's willingness to roll up her sleeves to do the work of social justice and of helping the poor as Amos calls us to do in the first reading we heard today. And we need Mary's desire to sit at the Lord's feet and hear his word so that we remember that Jesus came “to reconcile to himself all things...by making peace through the blood of his cross,” as the letter to the Colossians reminds us. We need to “continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel.” Mary knows how to do that.
In the end it all comes down to balance between action and contemplation, between Martha and Mary. As we move into the week ahead we ask God to show us whether we are more like Martha or more like Mary, and to help us be open to let God achieve a better balance in our lives and in the life of the church.