Choosing the Wiser Part: Sections of Sermon on Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38-42
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Worried and distracted. Two powerful words that can suck us dry, and keep us from living. It has been said, “Worry is most often a prideful way of thinking that you have more control over life and its circumstances than you actually do.” We worry about money, time, safety, the unknown, and the unspoken.

I believe that worry and distraction prevent us from being our true selves. They serve as defense mechanisms that steer us from being vulnerable and genuine.

This is not a text about over functioning, it’s a text about not listening.

Now, Jesus doesn’t say, “Martha, Martha, you need to stop working. “ Jesus is not is suggesting that Martha burn whatever it is she has cooking in the oven. He doesn’t say, “sit down, stop serving” he says “you are worried and distracted.”

Why is she worried? She’s annoyed that Mary isn’t helping her, but’s for reasons other than she needs help setting the table. Undoubtedly, Martha has needed help before. She’s worried, you see, she’s worried because Mary is a woman and has no right to sit at Jesus’ feet, in fact she is wrong to do so. Martha is worried because the rules say, Mary needs to be working and if they rules are broken Mary and maybe even Martha could be in trouble. The law says Martha has a right to be worried. Martha is upset because a social code has been broken and it distracts her from serving.

Jesus says to Martha and to the disciples and to every person who has ever read the book of Luke, women can be spiritual leaders. Women can sit at Jesus’ feet and hear him and learn from him and yes even teach about him. The better part of Mary is the sitting still and listening part. This is the better part for Mary and it will not be taken away from her. Mary is acting in the way God had called her to be.
Cynthia Jarvis writes, “…a community that is hospitable to Christ is a community marked by the attention the community gives to God’s word. A church that has been led to be ‘worried and distracted by many things’ inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution…This often leads a congregation to get downright ornery. Night after night, members leave home to crank out the church and return as clueless and empty as they were when they walked out the door. Endless meetings breed resentment in otherwise pleasant Christians because the church’s business is being done without any word of the God whom they thought they had agreed to serve.”  

We are so very good at creating anxiety. We are so talented at staying busy. It’s a like a drug. We sort of suck on it like a melting cherry popsicle thinking that somehow if we suck it all down, to protect us from showing our true fears. Jesus teaches that true wisdom comes from choosing what makes us faithful to him, without judgment. Let faith be genuine. Let it express the joy in our being. Jesus wants us to be present with him. To be ourselves. To sing badly, loudly. To pray without ceasing. To cry and laugh out loud. To be genuine. As genuine as Mary and as earnest as Martha. May we choose the wiser part.

Cynthia A. Jarvis, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season After, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010, 264.

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