The Apostle John in chapter 21, verse 25 of his gospel, said: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Every Gospel writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had to choose from many events and sayings they saw and heard from Jesus and later when they wrote the gospels, they had to decide just what to include and what to exclude. What we have in the gospels is only a small part of what Jesus did and taught.
When Luke decides to include six or seven sentences about two sisters named Mary and Martha, we need to ask: Why? What is the message Luke trying to pass on to his readers? Why did not he write another story? And as we reflect on this passage today, let us keep one question in mind: What are we supposed to learn from this?
Another thing to keep in mind when we reflect in these verses is our assumptions. One assumption many people still have in our time is the belief that learning is not for women; kitchen work, cleaning and house related work are for women. Another assumption is the dualism between “spiritual things” and not “spiritual things.” What is not “spiritual” (spiritual is in quotations) is bad.
Because of all these assumptions passages like this are misinterpreted. Why? Because a lot of people still see in Mary and Martha a contradiction. Sometimes when they read this story, they get the impression that Mary is a spiritual woman, while Martha is not. However, let us not forget that Martha is the one who invited Jesus into her house. This tells us a lot about her openness to spiritual things. She, too, longs to be a follower, and wants to honor Jesus by inviting him to her home.
When Luke shares the story of Mary and Martha had the purpose –I believe- to bring some light to a debate our early brothers and sisters had and still prevails in our days. I am talking about the controversial between faith and deeds. This controversial is also mentioned by James in chapter two of his letter. Martha and Mary’s story confuses many of us, especially when we identify with one sister or the other, when we take the side of either Mary or Martha and claim to be right.
Some people look at the story from Martha’s point of view and they say that Mary let Martha down: that Mary should have helped Martha serve Jesus and his disciples, that she should have done her share of the work; that she should have been a better hostess. Other people of course look at the story from Mary’s point of view. They say that Mary did the right thing when she chose to sit by Jesus and learn from him, that Jesus is, after all, the Lord – and that Jesus himself confirms this when he tells Martha that Mary has chosen “the better part”.
Let us take a look of what each of these women did. Martha was worried; she was worried about the food she will serve; she was worried about how clean her house is, about getting food and drink on time. She was distracted; she was so distracted that she did not realize that Jesus was teaching; that it was time to learn. Mary on the other hand also did something good. She stopped everything: she stopped doing dishes, she lowers the flame to the stew and sat by Jesus to listen, to learn, to fill her heart with the word of life. They both were doing good before Jesus’ eyes. But, for that particular moment Mary choose what was best.
Now, why –according to Jesus- Mary choose what was best? To answer this question let us go to John 12, this is another time when Mary was at Jesus’ feet. This time she anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. Judas complained and Jesus told him “Leave her alone you will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Seems to me that in today’s gospel Jesus is saying to Martha: Martha, Martha you will always have dishes to do, laundry to do, floors to sweep and supers to prepare, but take advantage of this moment and do what is better, now that you have me, come and listen, come and learn from me… you will not always have me. Remember Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die.
Sisters and brothers very often we need to put aside the work we do and just spend some time being at Jesus’ feet. Very often we need to put aside our work and spend some time learning from him; we need to take some time to enjoy his presence; we need to spend some time to be refreshed and recreated by his Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have to put aside our own work and take time to be with our Lord.
We must stop being unfair with our spirit. What do I mean by that? You know, when we are tired, when we are not functioning well in our place of work or our school we rest, we go to bed early, we postpone some things we have to do or we go on vacations, so our body and mind can have a brake and can be restored and recharge. Our spirits also need to be recharge because they get tired and when that happens, we must rest and we do it by resting before our creator, by feeding our spirits with the bread of life and by drinking the living water that only Jesus can provide.
You know, sometimes we as Martha get so distracted with all the work we have to do in church: teaching, visiting, preparing Sunday school, pay roll, programs, found raisings that we forget who we are. We are stewards, instruments of God and whatever we do, we must do it with His strength… and most important in His time. We must not forget that the word of God is our source of life, and the word of God is our strength as well, that is why we need to turn toward God and listen to His word, and sit at the feet of the eternal God, as Mary did at the feet of Jesus.
Let us always keep this in mind: the word that comes from the mouth of God enables us to serve and to make the difference; it is the word of God working in and through us that allows us to have not only eternal life, but also strength and eternal love. The kind of love that is never anxious, or worried, or hurtful to others.
In the Book of Amos 8:11,“The days are coming,” declares the sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” When those moments come to your life do not ignore them. Feed yourself with the word of God.
Remember, no one is a better Christian just by simply working and working for Jesus, we must also hear the word and dwell in the word – the word made flesh in Christ our Lord; neither no one can be a better Christian just by listen the word, we must as Martha, serve. Martha was worried and distracted because she lost the focus, she forgot the reason of her service, and that happen because she did not listen to Jesus, and as a result, she was angry not only with Mary but also with Jesus. I can almost listen Martha saying: is only me and me and no one help me.
Thru this story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is telling us today and is telling specially our leaders: do not burnout, yes, it’s true the harvest is plentiful and the workers a few, but take time to be holy, take time to seek the kingdom of God, take time with Jesus.
Are you tired? Come and take a break at Jesus’ feet, relax your spirit in prayer. Take time to talk to Jesus and be quiet… just listen what God has to tell you. Are you confused? read the Bible; come to Sunday School to listen and to learn what God wants from you.
Yes, some of us are more like Martha and some of us are more like Mary. Today through Luke’s story Jesus wants to reconcile both of them within us, for without sitting and listening to God, our work for God can only lead to anxiety, anger, and anguish. And without doing God’s work our faith is clearly nothing. Jesus needs followers in the kitchen ready to let everything go when he speaks; but He also needs followers ready to stand up and go to work after they had learn from Him. We can praise God doing what Mary did and we can also praise him doing what Martha did.