Thursday, August 19, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - Mary vs. Martha

Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? The story of the two sisters of Lazarus who welcomed Jesus and his disciples into their home with Mary sitting at Jesus feet to listen and Martha running around doing her best to outdo Martha Stewart? Ah, yes, that story.  Found in Luke 10:38-42 in the New Testament.

This story rings a bell with so many women for good reason.  Are we Martha's running around trying to do the things expected of us while neglecting our relationship with God?  Or are we building that relationship with God, as He would want? 

There's the other, more subtle angle here too - that of the complaint of Martha, "Lord, tell her to help me!" she cried.  If we are being Martha we may look with contempt on those who don't help out but sit and listen.  I even read a article on housekeeping that says God supposedly wants us to put our household chores above other things so that they aren't 'neglected'.  What a pat on the back for when we accomplish our housekeeping or volunteering or work to-do list! 

Isn't that also where that little and dangerous seed of self-righteousness comes in too?

Oh, yes, my house is spotless, I volunteer at the food shelf 3 hours a week, I sew quilts for the woman's shelter, I have homemade cookies waiting when my children get home from school, I serve on the PTA, and my husbands gets a back and foot rub each night!  And didn't I tell you I just got promoted to Senior Vice- President of Marketing with a corner office and my own secretary!  What's that? Bible time? Prayer time? Well, you do know that I have the Bible on my Blackberry and attend worship every Sunday.  Oh, yeah, and I give money whenever they have a mission drive.  Smile.  Nod.  Pat self on back.

It can work the other way too, though, can't it.

Sure my house is dusty, and the beds are unmade and we usually get fast food for dinner, but hey - I'm communing with the Lord.  I spend 4 hours a day reading the Bible.  And another 2 praying.  And I too serve the food shelf - but I serve 3 hours a day, not per week.  I have a Bible - both paper and electronic copies on my person at all times.  And if you see me with my eyes closed - dont' bug me. I'm praying (in addition to my 2 hours a day mentioned above). Never mind that I rarely talk to my husband, my children haven't had an after school snack in years, my house is a mess, I haven't been able to keep a full-time (or even part time) job and I don't have the time to serve on any other type of committee because I'm communing with my Lord and my relationship with Him is fabulous! Smile. Nod. Pat self on back.

Now, most of us certainly aren't as extreme as either case (though I do know people who fit both of these descriptions).  I think most of us fall into a more common trap: Worry and distraction with our daily lives.

What does Jesus say to Martha in the story, "You are worried and distracted by many things; Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Mary had a chance to develop her relationship with her Living Lord - in the flesh - and it was not going to be taken from her.  Jesus was not going to tell her that cooking and cleaning and preparing the big meal that would be needed to feed Jesus and his disciples was more important than her relationship with Him. Mary doing what she did was unheard of!  Women did not kneel at the feet of a man and hear him teach, especially a man who was not their father or husband.  Being a woman, she most likely would not have even been allowed in the room!  This is how important the relationship with Jesus was - even the social customs and religious statutes of the day were thrown out the window so she could build that relationship.  Jesus also does not tell Martha that Mary will not or should not help her.  Just that her relationship with Him and the chance to build that relationship will not be taken away. 

He also tells Martha that she is worried and distracted about many things. He does not tell Martha that all those things don't need to be done or shouldn't be done. He tells her that she is distracted by them.  If Martha owned a home large enough to house everyone and wealthy enough for her family to be known around the city, then she probably had servants or slaves. They could do some of the preparation.  Perhaps Jesus was just expecting her put out what she had and she wanted to prepare a fancy feast.  Or perhaps Jesus had in mind teaching first and everyone pitching in to make dinner and find sleepign spaces after.  Who knows! It doesn't sound like He was worried at all about what they were going to have for dinner and where they were going to sleep.

I spent worship last night thinking about my to-do list instead of worshiping and I had no one visiting my home that evening. I can imagine Martha, faced with a large number of people (ranging somewhere from 13-40+) in her house, she would be thinking about the food to prepare, where they were going to sleep, if she needed to send a servant to the market for anything, if they had enough hot water for everyone to wash before bed, and the whole list of other things that would come with the occasion.  I can see her jumping from thing to thing to thing - and then grumbling that Mary isn't helping her.  Instead of focusing on Jesus and her relationship with Him, Martha is thinking about dinner, and dishes, and beds, and water, and errands.  Distracted indeed!

With the Lord physically in the house, I would hope I wouldn't be distracted by what to serve for dinner.

But aren't I?

How many times don't I invite someone over? Or fuss about the state of the house when my husband's Bible study comes over - is the bathroom clean enough, is the flower arrangement on the living room desk just so, do I have a snack that everyone will like, are the kids quiet enough while playing in the other room?  I'm not focusing on the people or my relationship with them or what they're here to do. I'm worried and distracted.

How many times do I not take the time to help someone or have that meaningful conversation because I'm distracted about the next thing on my to-do list - making dinner, picking someone up, cleaning my bathroom, typing that transcript, reading that article?  Or do I just not take that extra step to build relationships because I am worried about getting things done and distracted by other things.

Even my precious morning time with the Lord, in my Bible with my quiet house - reading and praying and communing with the Lord gets shoved aside with my worries and distractions.  While He isn't physically in the flesh in my house, He is here in Spirit waiting for me to talk to him and be with him.

And isn't that what He wants?  That bit of our time that our other relationship's need too - time to talk, and discuss, and learn. And I'm distracted.  Too distracted sometimes to make the time.
I often struggle between Mary and Martha.  I don't believe that God wants me to neglect things like the state of my house, meals, volunteering and the like.  Those physical and tangible ways we bless our family and others are important.  I do believe that He wants us to put Him first and our relationship with Him first and the rest will fall into place.

How do you struggle with Mary and Martha?  Who are you more like? I'd love to hear?

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Lea