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Mary and Martha remembered on July 29th

On July 29th,  Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Companions of Jesus are remembered in our lectionary. So forgive me for missing out Lazarus – here is a little homily about the two sisters.

Sermon on Martha and Mary. July 29th 2009

Some thoughts for you  on this short and intriguing episode in Bethany when Jesus meets with two sisters.

It follows on from the story of the Good Samaritan and Luke sets it during Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem in Bethany, which wasn’t very far from the big city. In the verses from Luke Chapter 10  we seem to have two women with contrating  temperaments

A little rhyme first.

“ Lord of all pots and pans and things,

Since I’ve had no time to be,

A saint by doing lovely things

Or watching late with thee,

Or dreaming in the dawnlight

Or storming heavens gates,

Make me a saint by getting meals

And washing up the plates.

If we look at the two sisters and their two temperaments as many have read them, it wasn’t that Martha was wrong being an activist and Mary right for taking the listening, contemplative role. Maybe we could say that at that particular time in  Jesus’ ministry- just as he is making  his way towards Jerusalem and all that he had to face- Jesus did not need a lot of activity and doing around him – he needed an oasis of quiet from the demanding crowds. That is what maybe Mary was trying to give him and poor Martha, rushing around trying to be the perfect host just hadn’t realised that was what he needed.

marymartha-tintorettosm Mary and Martha by Tintoretto

When Jesus says “ One things is necessary” – he might well have meant that he just needed the simplest of meals – and quiet time to be listened to and rest. Martha and Mary no doubt loved Jesus equally, but Martha just hadn’t quite sensed where Jesus was at. She needed to be reminded that sometimes its quality time someone wants, time to be listened to and simply held in someone’s attention, not business and action which maybe she was more naturally gifted at. Somehow Mary had understood and Jesus praised her for it.

Sometimes those of us who are naturally active and busy need to be sensitive to the need for times of quietness- those of us who are quieter and don’t immediately run for the sticking plasters need to be aware when practical action is needed.

I wonder, how good are we at sensing what it is that some really needs? Can we adapt our natural temperaments to be fully attuned to the needs of the moment?

I would suggest that it is no co-incidence that the story follows on that of the parable of the Good Samaritan in which  Jesus is commending the importance of concrete love in action. It’s no good following the laws of God down to the finest detail if it paralyses us from taking constructive and positive action.

Maybe this Martha and Mary story follows to balance up the teaching on action and doing.

Someone once said, reflecting on the business of human beings in today’s frenetic age that we ought to be called human “doings” and not human “ beings”.

In the Martha and Mary story Jesus can be understood as  saying that we must create times in our every day lives to just BE in the presence of God. To be fed and nourished by him.To be refreshed and healed and forgiven. Without that spiritual feeding, we will not have the strength, wisdom nor courage to carry out our life of doing. The greatest doers in religious history have always been devout people of prayer. Neglect prayer and listening to God and the source for all our doing dries up. Motivation goes. The vision is lost.

The  episode  can be seen as a corrective to the activism portryaed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. And not surpirsingly, the next stories that follow are about prayer – the next verses have Jesus  sharing with us the wonderful words of the Lords Prayer.

” Lord, temper with tranquility my manifold activity that I may do my work for thee with very great simplicity” – ascribed to a medieval monk

July 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Yo Paxtonvic;
    haven’t had time to read the article above yet, but just wanted to say, like the new photo. on the right.
    You certainly have a very impressive pair of Decalogue Boards there.

    Comment by Wingy | July 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. Well said

    Hope you are having a good day.

    I have been to the dentist, a good time to think and be reflective whilst leaning back in the chair.

    Comment by Peter Hagger | July 29, 2009 | Reply

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