"Be Like Mary...and Martha." (Luke 10:38-42)
Allen M. Junek
Justice work is exhausting.
For those of us who take seriously the gospel’s call to serve the-least-of-these, it can be far too easy to get burned out. The moment one ruling is handed down in favor of the poor, it seems as if two more rulings are decided in order to keep the poor in their place. One step forward, two steps back.
For most Christians around the world, today is the day we remember Mary and Martha of Bethany: friends of Jesus, sisters of Lazarus--whom Jesus raised from the dead--and apostles in their own right.
If you recall, Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus into their home. After he got inside, Jesus began to teach. Mary sat, listening diligently, while Martha was busied with household chores. Obviously bothered by her sister’s lack of effort to serve and accommodate their guest(s), Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus replies in admonishment, saying that Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.
I’d be interested to know what Martha said in response. Perhaps, she talked back to Jesus saying, “Well Mr. High and Mighty, dinner is not going to cook itself.” I know I certainly would.
The lesson here doesn’t appear to be that Martha needs to stop what she’s doing. Jesus didn’t say that. Perhaps Jesus even, like all of us who spent time as children, knew not to bite the hand that feeds him.
Jesus also does not tell Mary to get to work, which I think suggests they were both doing necessary tasks; neither was more faithful to than the other. And maybe that’s the point.
The story of Mary and Martha so often is used to contrast the active and contemplative parts of our faith, with the intent of framing the contemplative faith as superior.
The Christian life, however, has always been a combination of both action and contemplation.
Work and rest.
Practice and prayer.
Body and mind.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all of our mind and all of our strength (that is, our body). Minds matter to God, but bodies matter to God too. Mary and Martha know this better than anyone, because if bodies didn’t matter to God, then Jesus wouldn’t have raised their brother from the dead.
The active faith--the labor of our bodies--draws us ever closer to the mystery of God’s heart, and in contemplating this mystery, we are moved with open arms to embrace and protect the goodness of God’s world. In other words, action and contemplation fuel one another. Mary and Martha need one another.
It is no wonder that so many great leaders and activists--saints, even--have spent so much time in prayer, and in so doing, have drawn the whole world nearer to the promised reign of God. May our work likewise lead us to find rest, and may our rest fuel our service to the ones God so dearly loves.
For Mary and Martha, and our ability to see ourselves in their story, thanks be to God.
Prayer: O God, our Teacher, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen.
Bio: Friends Church holds a special place in Allen’s heart. After graduating from Texas A&M, Allen began to discern a call to ministry with Friends and left in 2019 to begin his seminary studies at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Now in his second year, he is discerning his vocation to the priesthood of The Episcopal Church.