7-15-16 - Better

The story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary is often interpreted as contrasting the contemplative and active dimensions of spirituality. And whenever I’ve asked groups who they relate to most strongly, most answer Martha. This is not surprising in a culture which lives by to-do lists, in which productivity and accomplishment are the highest criteria for success. And we might all agree that a healthy soul-life is balanced – our connection to God cultivated in prayer needs to be expressed outwardly in action, and our ministries need to be grounded in our connection to God in prayer if we want them to bear fruit.

Jesus, however, does not value these equally:
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The better part. Jesus is saying, “No, Mary does not have to get up and help you in the kitchen, Martha. She is putting her relationship with me above everything else, and no one can take that away from her.”

Don’t most of us have at least one person in our lives for whom we would drop everything to spend time with? For Christ-followers, at least one of those people should be Jesus. The first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is making the choice that he comes first, before the other loves and duties which claim us. What he thinks is important becomes of utmost importance to us – trusting in God, offering the power of healing, sharing resources with those who have less. If he says time with him (which is what prayer and worship are…) is of highest priority, let’s make it ours.

Before we agree to do something, or launch an initiative of our own creation, let’s plan for how we will integrate that project into our lives of prayer and worship, first making sure we’ve set aside time for those. And when someone in the church who excels at prayer and intercession really doesn’t want to be on the Vestry, entrust them with your prayer list and leave them to do what they do best. There will be plenty of people who like the active ministries.

The real challenge is how to get us “active” types to sit down and spend more time at Jesus’ feet. One reason we keep going the way we do is to avoid dealing with feelings that come up when we’re quiet. Maybe we just have to be more active about becoming contemplative. Martin Luther is quoted as having said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

Who knows how efficiently Mary might have worked in that kitchen after receiving the gifts of Jesus’ teaching, had Martha been willing to trust. And who knows how peaceful Martha might have felt had she joined Mary in her choice. Dinner can wait; Jesus is now. Join him, and dinner will happen.

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