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Mary and Martha

Martha and Mary – Luke 10 v 38-42

I begin this morning with a little rhyme:

“ 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 dawn light

Or storming heavens gates,

Make me a saint by getting meals

And washing up the plates.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, which we heard last week, is immediately followed by the story of Martha and Mary.

The parable of the Good Samaritan extols the virtue of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting stuck into the work that needs to be done, however dirty that might be. The Samaritan had to clean and dress the wounds of the man, lift him onto his donkey and walk alongside to the inn. Even when he got there, he continued his care; only leaving him the following day after ensuring the continuing care of the innkeeper by paying him some money, and assuring him of further reimbursement if necessary. This practical attitude is contrasted with the ‘other worldy’ and wholly inadequate attitude of the priest and the Levite.

This week in the story of Martha and Mary, Martha is the one who gets stuck in, up to her elbows in dishes and cleaning, it is she who acts like the “Good Samaritan”, but it seems she is not commended for her activity.

Mary on the other hand is the listener, the one sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing the word of God. She is not helping anyone, just basking in the graciousness of what Jesus was saying. She, unlike the priest and the Levite of the parable, is commended!

Martha wanted Mary to help with the work, the inference is that Mary was being lazy. The prayer of Martha was ‘Tell her to help me.’

Perhaps we sometimes feel the same, that others are lazy and we end up doing all the work.

Jesus doesn’t answer Martha’s prayer and get Mary to help in the housework, but this is not because Jesus wants to justify unfair working practices, neither does Jesus support the exploitation of some as a result of the idleness of others.

Many people use this passage to juxtapose two types of people. One very spiritual and contemplative the other very practical and down to earth.

And the message today seems to be that it is alright to be spiritual whilst other people get on with the pressing work that needs to be done. Maybe there is some truth in the expression that  “ we can be so spiritual that we are no earthly good’. But I don’t think this passage is saying that the contemplative life is superior to ordinary mundane life with all its daily chores and necessities.

The answer is surely that there is no real conflict and real spirituality is not divorced from reality and does not flee worldly affairs. How often was Mary to be found at Jesus feet? The answer is probably ‘not very often’.

So here she was using this rare and precious opportunity to listen to Jesus. Jesus was very dependent upon the ministry of women and he also depended upon them for his physical support – this was a vital and important role. (See Luke 8:1-3.) They gave to him practical acts of loving service. Real commitment and obedience demands service. Mary was turning her focus upon Jesus in a rare opportunity.

There is even more than this going on. The words used  imply that  Mary was ‘sitting at Jesus feet.’ This is a phrase used in Acts 22:3 ‘under Gamaliel’.

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

It was more than just like sitting in front of the TV.  It was to be in the role of a disciple. Here was Mary being taught by Jesus as a disciple. It is unusual for women in the first-century Judaism to be accepted by a teacher as a disciple. Jesus was showing that we must all be conscientious in setting aside time for our spiritual growth and development.

The priorities for Martha at that precious time of Jesus’ visit  time were the wrong ones, hence Jesus tells Martha that her life at that point in time  was  crowded with too many things. She needed to make space for Jesus’ presence, to give her whole attention to him.

The world of Mary and Martha in their own way was just as busy for them as our lives may seem today. Many of you know how hard I find it to go away from here incase something happens that needs my immediate attention – or that if I’m away for too long there will be a huge pile of stuff to catch up when I return. It’s so easy to fall into that “ I’m indispensible”  trap. Clergy are very good at that!

But it was good to get away for a few days last week. It was good to take  time sitting in some Norfolk medieval churches – for which I have no responsibility at all- and let God speak to me without feeling I should be answering e-mails or seeing if there are any messages – or worrying about that damp on the walls.

I do recognize the two realities in the story of Mary and Martha- that wish to be busy and make sure everything is done well and efficiently and put on a good show – and that opposing force to just be still, stop directing the action and wait and see what God is trying to say.  We are a very busy little church community – even more busy since starting the CHUFT fund raising. Sometimes I think  we need to take a pause  – well we will in August – and spend  time praying about our funding and timing of the project –we can do that as individuals and  together in our prayer time in church.

This is a great gospel story – a powerful corrective to the business we can all get driven by  without giving enough time to simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. We do not have to feel guilty if we are not working. It’s essential to take time out to be with God.

And even if sometimes we just cannot stop what we are doing – the little rhyme I began with can remind us that work done with kindness in the service of others in itself can be an act of love to others and to God, a kind of prayer in motion.

How is this for a lovely prayer to finish with – ascribed
to a medieval monk:

Lord, temper with tranquillity my manifold activity

that I may do my work for thee

with very great simplicity”

Amen.

* With thanks to the ” Thisischurch.com” web-site

for some of these ideas.

PS- I blogged about these two ladies last year on July 29th – just a few different additional thoughts in this version.

Maybe having these two  ladies remembered in the lectionary on my birthday this year is trying to tell  me something!

July 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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