Proper 11 texts at www.textweek.com
Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 52 Colossians 1:15-28 Luke 10: 38-42
‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.’ Luke 10:41-42a
Sometimes the Bible packs a lot of power into a few short verses. Other times we read a lot of meaning into just a little bit of text. This small passage in Luke’s gospel, just four verses tucked between a parable and a prayer, is powerful. But it also leaves a lot of room for presumption.
In fact, the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of the two sisters often seems to be employed as a biblical personality test: Are you a Martha or a Mary? It’s tempting to see them as two-dimensional figures, as caricatures.
Martha, the do-gooder, the uptight, the Type-A, the control freak, ironing the linen tablecloths and handmaking Pinterest-worthy napkin rings, with a perfectly risen soufflé in the oven, and an apple pie cooling on the windowsill (first prize at the county fair, thank you very much). Clearing her throat, more and more loudly, in her sister’s direction.
Mary, the hippie. (Okay, my bias is showing! Let me try again.) Mary, the laid-back, the listener to songs and stories, the rapt student, the contented. Mary, who doesn’t notice the crumbs on the carpet where she sits, and wouldn’t have a clue where to find the vacuum cleaner anyway. Who is so tuned in to the teacher’s voice that she misses her sister’s frustrated non-verbal cues.
Of course, we don’t glean all this from these four quick verses. We don’t have the Birth Order Book to help us make educated guesses about their roles in the family, and we don’t have the sisters’ Enneagram types or Myers-Briggs results. What we have is one single scenario, one snapshot in time, one day-in-the-life. One important visitor, one dinner that needs preparing, and one gentle lesson about one important choice.
If we set aside the usual presumptions and our own biases, we can see that choice clearly. It’s not a choice between busyness and laziness, or between hospitality and spirituality, or even between being a Martha or a Mary.
It’s a choice, for this moment, between distraction and focus. It’s a choice, for right now, between worry and peace.
Taking care of one another is an imperative. Providing for each others’ needs is one way we behave as good neighbors—whether we’re traveling Samaritans or stay-at-home sisters. Just as this text bridges the story of the Good Samaritan and the lesson of the Lord’s Prayer, the days of our own lives are a balance of acting and receiving, of all-hands-on-deck effort and hearts-all-in listening.
Peace isn’t the opposite of action and effort; we can find peace in action, and we can even help to create peace by our efforts. But if our need to act drives us to distraction, and if our intensive efforts stir up worry, then we need to hear the voice of the Teacher calling us back to this one moment, this one choice, this one thing.
This is an Advent peace: the spark of one candle in the worrisome dark (never mind the polished candlesticks, and let the wax drip where it will). Peace is the blessing spoken over the dancing flame; prayer and provision in one breath as we welcome the Light, as we prepare him room.
First published 7/11/16 on www.bwim.info/blog