38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
One of my favorite and least favorite things is to host a cookout or dinner at my house. I love them because I enjoy spending time with friends or family, and I also enjoy grilling up whatever delicious food we will be enjoying that day.
However, besides the usual tidying up, and grocery shopping that is needed ahead of time, I dislike hosting these events because I am constantly running around the house and to the firepit to make sure everything is cooked at the right time, and to make sure that all of the people there are having a good time.
When I’m running around, I tend to have short conversations with everyone, rather than more significant conversations with a few. The shorter conversations I do to address the needs of the people there, but they come at the expense of me not being able to relax and enjoy my time with those around me.
I found myself being absent-minded in a social gathering that is meant to make all feel satisfied in the present. I reminded myself of the stress that my family members would feel during big family holiday meals as they were preparing the meal and the table, and I had always felt bad for them that they couldn’t relax and enjoy the moment.
Have you ever felt that way?
Today’s scripture reading has to do with two sisters who welcomed Jesus, and likely some of his followers, into their home.
Martha welcomed Jesus inside and likely washed his feet right away (as was the custom), and then I can picture her making sure he had a clear place to sit, straightening up the room Jesus was in, and then moving on to the start preparing a meal for them all to eat.
Mary, on the other hand, was so excited that Jesus was visiting with them that she didn’t want a moment to pass by. She wasn’t thinking about tidying up the house, she wasn’t thinking of rushing to help Martha prepare a meal, she was only focused on spending time with Jesus and listening to all that He had to say.
Martha grew frustrated at Mary not helping her, and I can picture her trying to get Mary’s attention subtly until finally she bursts out a plea for Jesus to tell her to come help Martha prepare the house and the meal for their guest(s).
Jesus responds by saying something along the lines of, “Martha, you are stressed about all these little things while Mary is paying attention to the main point of me coming here, to spend time with you”.
This reminds me of when a good friend would pull me aside at these gatherings that I would host and say, “hey, calm down and relax – you don’t have to go through all this trouble for me – I’m just glad to be here.”
It’s not that Martha was doing anything wrong – she was trying to be a good host in the way that she knew how. Its just that Mary recognized that spending time with Jesus was more important than trying to tidy the house or prepare a meal.
Being busy feels good sometimes. It feels productive to have a set schedule, to accomplish tasks that you need to do in an orderly fashion, but as we all know, when we focus on the busy stuff, it never stops.
There’s a song I grew up listening to by Harry Chapin called “Cat’s in the Cradle” about a relationship between a father and son where the Father was too busy to spend time with his son when he was younger, and how the son grew up to be too busy to spend time with his father when they were both adults.
It’s a sad song, but it points to a lesson to be learned: Building important relationships with others is of greater importance than the stress and busy schedules that we make for ourselves.
This way of thinking requires us to place building relationships with our loved ones and our friends within our important schedules, even if it means having people over while there are dishes in the sink, even if it means not checking our email after a certain time of the day, and even if it means saying no to some things so that your relationships with those you care about grow stronger.
As we have been sheltering-in-place as a society, some people are still working their normal hours, some are working more hours, some are working more at home then they did in the office, and a lot of us have been watching TV so much that we are becoming bored.
Yet even still, the majority of us are spending more time at home than we were before. If you are fortunate to live with other people, whether they are spouses, family members, or roommates, don’t become so caught up in the stress of the every day that you can’t invest in these relationships now.
If you are living alone right now, make time in your day and evenings to reach out to family and friends. A couple weeks ago, three of my friends and I met over zoom to talk about our lives in the ministry (we are all clergy), the books we have been reading, and to catch up on life in general. I was surprised by how much joy meeting with those friends gave me, even though it was not in person.
And while we are on the topic of building relationships, this is also a time for us to focus on Jesus wanting to meet us where we are.
It doesn’t matter if our lives are messy. It doesn’t matter what dishes we may have in the sink. It doesn’t matter if we haven’t talked with him in a day, a week, or a few years.
What matters is that Jesus wants to meet us where we are at.
He doesn’t want us to be so distracted by our busyness, or our efforts to make ourselves seem more presentable, that we miss the fact that:
Jesus wants to meet us where we are at
Jesus wants to spend time with us
Jesus wants to remind us of His love, the blessings He has given to us, and that He is there in our times when busyness, stress, and worry are consuming our lives.
So in this time, let’s be more like Mary and less like Martha.