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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mary busy in a Martha world

In a story we have about Jesus, two sisters, Mary and Martha, have Jesus and his guests over for dinner. Martha is doing on the hosting, and Mary is sitting and listening to Jesus. Eventually, fed up with her sister's non-help, she asks Jesus to chide Mary and goad her into helping with all the dinner preparing and serving stuff. Jesus, instead, chides Martha for chiding Mary, and even says that Mary has "chosen the better part." (Check out the complete story here) What gives? Does Jesus disrespect Martha? How can he let Mary let down her sister? Does he think that the food and drink will magically appear (actually, that could be true, given his recent past with loaves and fishes...)

Jesus does seem a little cruel and clueless here, unless you are a sister. (In this case, brothers don't count. They would have never been expected to help out with the serving.) So readers who are sisters, what happens when something important is going to go on in the family? Who "takes" control? And, perhaps for this story--more importantly, what is their usual response if someone asks, "Do you need any help?"

Most people are pleased when an important person such as Jesus chooses to stay with them and avail himself of their hospitality. It makes you feel special. It makes you feel like you have a purpose. You are valued. And when others seek to help, usually we turn it away. We turn it away for a variety of reasons, but one is because we don't want to put anybody out. We want people to be happy, to be able to enjoy their time with Jesus under our roof, and we don't want to "impose" on our friends and family the stuff we can do.

It's not too hard to imagine that Mary, as the younger sister tried to help, and Martha shooed her away. And that was OK as long as it seemed like everything was going well, until she noticed a discrepancy. She was hustling about, and Mary was just sitting and listening. But, as any younger sister can tell you, that's all her older sister had left for her to do. So Mary, like younger sisters since time immemorial, took advantage of the situation, and actually chose to listen to Jesus. Now Martha gets frustrated and calls on Jesus to make things right. And he does.

But right in Jesus' mind is to be in the living room with everyone else, not in the kitchen all by yourself trying to do things to meet your expectations rather than the expectations of your guests. Relationships, Jesus points out to Martha, come from spending time with people, not from fulfilling social expectations. What Martha has missed is precisely what Mary chose to do.

And Mary is busy, but not in the way that Martha understands. Martha is all about outcomes, products, bottom lines, efficiency, and making sure things get done. And although that can be important it is NOT the better part of what makes a life. What makes a life is the process, the relationships, the sitting around and talking. THAT's the better part.

So the question this story poses to you and I is why am I busy? Am I busy doing the least important or most important parts of my life? I remember a friend of my on his pastoral internship who was late for a Church Council meeting because he had stopped to help a woman on the road change a flat tire. At first, he said, the council was mad that he was late, but upon hearing his story, they were not as angry. Why?

Could it be that the council saw that helping a woman on the side of the road is more important than starting a meeting at 7 pm? Could it be that Jesus suggests the same thing to us in is "martha-induced addictions?" Could it be that there are more important things than what Martha was doing? After all, the people are at the house because they want to talk with Jesus, not because they want Martha's lemon bars. And to miss that is to miss the most important part.

To my mind there's "Mary-busy" and there's "Martha-busy." There's no doubt we live in a Martha-based world these days, but that doesn't mean its the best, the healthiest, or the way things are supposed to be. Mary's story is good reminder that there is more to life than just getting things done--there's also a lot of living to be doing, and sometimes that living involves some sitting.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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