“There is only need of one thing.” (Luke 10:42a)
If we are honest, it seems that most of us would probably side with Martha rather than Mary at this dinner party with Jesus. We know well from our lives that there is much work to be done, our calendars keep us busier than we might like to be and we could use all the help we could get. We might even see others with contempt when we do not believe they are pulling their weight like Martha did, complaining that Mary is sitting there lazily while all the tasks rest on her shoulders. We might also roll our eyes in disgust, wondering what Mary was thinking by sitting at Jesus’ feet like that – as though she was one of his male disciples sitting beneath her teacher. Martha probably thought Mary was embarrassing herself by either defying or not understanding her place and neglecting her duties. Martha might have even been a bit jealous wondering why she was stuck providing generous hospitality while her sister got away with just sitting and listening to Jesus. Perhaps Martha secretly wished that she was the one enjoying the company of their house guest instead of her do-nothing sister.
Yet Jesus commended Mary (not Martha) for choosing to do “the better part” (Luke 10:42). Why? I wonder if Jesus’ response has more to do with our attitude than the work that Martha was doing, or the breaking of social mores that Mary was pushing. After all, a good part of following Jesus is hospitality, serving and being attentive to the needs of others from the places we are; whatever our status might be. At the same time Jesus is the constant leveler – showing us again and again our common humanity and worth beyond our social constructs and culturally enforced hierarchical identity roles.
In this scene, Martha is disgruntled, complaining, and resentful. Mary is present and attentive. Martha asks Jesus to make her sister help. How often are our prayers about asking God to make someone else do something rather than change either our perspective or something within ourselves? How does Martha’s complaint contrast with the next passage, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4).
Perhaps Luke is simply showing us what a difference our attitude makes. One can do amazing things, achieve a lot to make people’s lives better, and check all the boxes of what others may expect from us; but if we are bitter about doing it, lack gratitude, humility and/or a servant’s heart – we have missed the joy of being in the presence of Jesus.
Before this dinner party (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); and in doing so was preparing for the difficult times that were coming. He sent his disciples out two by two without any resources – to teach them how to receive kindness from others and remain dependent on God (Luke 10:1-12). They joyfully returned telling their stories, receiving Jesus’ blessing and were eager to do what came next (Luke 10:17-4). In doing so, their community was strengthened and they grew deeper into Christ’s mission. When confronted by a lawyer with the question, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus told a story of man who fell into the hands of robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:30-37)… in the parable Jesus tells, two religious people (who we would expect to help) passed by the injured man, leaving him on the roadside. Jesus did not explain why they did not stop, but is it possible that they are “distracted by many things” just like Martha? Only the Samaritan (the most unlikely scum sucking neighbor possible) was attentive, alert, able and willing to see and help that stranger on the roadside. His heart for others helped restore the injured traveller to health. In the same way, Mary was attentive to Jesus, sitting and listening in her home, while Mary, the Priest and the Levite missed that opportunity without the eyes to see “the one thing” right before them.
There is a lot to be burdened by and distracted by in life. Paying attention, getting over ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or are not doing through comparison to our efforts, remaining thankful and generous, and staying focused on what God is doing right before us can change everything.
In the love that Jesus gives us – we receive others openly with happy hearts in a hospitality that can be shared and enjoyed. The burden of work we need to do feels lighter. People are welcomed and included by our attentiveness to them. Community is strengthened and grow. Then when trouble comes (as it always does); we will all be better equipped to face it together.
Attentiveness is everything.
-What distracts you?
-What resentments are you carrying?
-How might a thankful heart help change how you see others?
-Where in your life could you be more present with people?