Come Sunday: Merry Martha? (July 21, 2013)

Ninth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)

July 21, 2013

Luke 10:38-42

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Luke 10:41-42 (The Message)

Hosting parties at my house always brings both anticipation and fear. You have to do a lot to get things ready to receive people. Anyone who knows me or my husband knows if company is coming over we have to clean up the house. So, we spend time cleaning the house-something that we should have done anyway.

When the guests arrive, we then have to make sure that everyone is taken care of. You take their coats. If they brought food, you need to put it somewhere. You might have been busy most of the day cooking a meal or appetizers. You run around making sure everyone has something to eat and something to drink. When it’s all over, you are silently glad that you don’t have to do this for a while.

Being hospitable is hard work.

Maybe that’s why Martha was so mad at her sister Mary. Martha wanted to be a good host. She spent the day getting ready and was still busy even after Jesus arrived. I can see Martha fuming as she is busy cooking the meal, while her annoying sister Mary is doing nothing but sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he’s saying.

At some point, Martha can’t take it. She protests loudly to Jesus to tell Mary to get up off her duff and help Martha.

Jesus’ response is interesting. He tells Martha to not get so worked up over the small stuff. He basically tells her that relationships matter.

Martha is doing what she thinks is right and it is. She wants to show hospitality to the good Rabbi. But she gets so busy in the work that she lost sight of the people. Mary, on the other hand, quietly sits with Jesus and listens. She is also showing hospitality by listening to Jesus and having relationship with Mary.

Martha isn’t the only one that can lose sight of what matters. Sometimes we all can get so busy in the work, whatever that maybe in our daily life, that we forget the message and the messenger. It’s not that the work doesn’t matter. After all, Martha had to prepare a meal and do all the things to ensure that Jesus had a good time. But Martha, and all of us can at times get so busy for Jesus, that we forget to listen to Jesus.

In the past, this passage has been used to shame active women and lift up passive women. That’s not my point here. My point is that Martha wasn’t present in the moment- she didn’t see where God was present-even when God was right in front of her.

Trish Harrison-Warren wrote a blog post recently about learning to find God in the everyday. In her 20s, she was like many young evangelicals in wanting to change the world, to be “radical.” But she learned that sometimes being radical is far more mundane:

A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us.
And here is the embarrassing truth: I still believe in and long for a revolution. I still think I can make a difference beyond just my front door. I still want to live radically for Jesus and be part of him changing the world. I still think mediocrity is dull, and I still fret about settling.

But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.

The lesson Martha learned is not that it’s wrong to do work. What she missed was being with God in the moment, to be in communion with God.

I hope this week we can find God in the rythyms of our daily work. I hope we remember that the relationship matters.

Go and be church.

More Resources

Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:

Danielle Shroyer: Let the Cat Fight Begin

Russell Rathburn: I’m Telling Jesus on You!

Stephanie Frey: Living with Martha


Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

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