Are you a Mary? or a Martha?
I hear this a lot in church ministry circles. Especially when someone who has been serving for a long time is starting to feel overwhelmed. It usually involves them saying something along the lines of "I just want to sit and be fed for a while." And then someone usually comes along side and references the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!""Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38 - 42
The helpful person usually says, "Maybe it is time for you to be Mary for a while." Which would make complete sense if Jesus was actually in the room. Of course we should be sitting at his feet. We should be making time in our day to be in the presence of God, in His Word. I think though that we often use this story as an excuse to take a break and be fed. And while breaks are important (God rested on the 7th Day), I think we have to be careful in how we interpret this scripture.
No where in the passage does Jesus say that Mary should rest or that Martha should not be making preparations. What he says is, "Only one thing is needed." If we take Mary as a person who took time to sit and listen to the teacher, who rested and was fed, then is that the one thing that is needed? To sit and listen? I don't think so. Every time Jesus mentions what we need, he is referencing our need for a Savior, for His redemption. Mary was choosing to listen to Jesus, to be in His presence. She was getting spiritually fed by the Lord. She was spending time with her Savior, with Jesus Christ, God's son. I can imagine though when he was done teaching in her house, she got up and went back to work.
I don't think we are called to either a Mary OR a Martha. I think instead we are to learn two important lessons from this story. First we need to have our priorities straight - only one thing is needed - Jesus. And second, don't let our work, distract from this. But this story is not an excuse to live quiet lives of solitude and contemplation, allowing others to do the work of serving the church, loving our neighbors and spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. We need to be using our gifts and talents to glorify God. We need to be participating in His work. We need to do this with our priorities in place, with our hearts turned towards God, our mind being fed by His Word.
So let's not give up on serving when we get tired. Let's find very real places of rest, Sabbath, in our lives. Let's find wise counsel, teachers and friends who can help us grow spiritually. Let's spend real time in God's word and in prayer which always feeds me and gives me strength and energy. And then let's work. Let's serve. Let's love through our actions.
I want to be a Martha, who serves the real needs of God's people because I have also spent part of my day as a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus.