On my recent travels to Wartburg seminary I was required to take a week away to study two classes: Hebrew Bible 2 and Church as Community. During the five days of classes, it was necessary to stay focused, listen and learn as much as possible in the intensive week. Sitting still is not always my strongest suit. If it gives you some perspective, my parents dubbed me as “Tigger” before I was two years old. However, this time at seminary gave me time to wrestle with the challenge to listen more and worry less.
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The lesson this week focuses on two sisters that give a good example of the contrast between listening and worry. Upon Jesus arrival at their home, he is welcomed by Martha and is ushered in. Martha disappears from her company to make preparations for them. Mary immediately takes a place sitting at Jesus feet and listens alongside of the men, which was not the custom of the day, to hear Jesus teaching. As time passes, Martha comes to Jesus asking him to tell her sister to help her with the work. The decision that Mary makes to sit and listen to Jesus is a challenge to social norms and becomes a point of conflict between the sisters as well.
Some may expect Jesus to tell Mary to go help her sister with the work. Some may think that Martha should not complain about her sister. When hearing this lesson you can consider who you associate with more: Martha or Mary? The challenge of this conflict between Martha and Mary could take us all morning to unravel, but in one statement Jesus cuts to the core of the problem: Worry and distraction.
Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, 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.”
In a short reply, Jesus clarifies that Martha’s problem has no connection to Mary’s actions. Martha’s distraction and worry belong to her alone. Because of her worry, Martha is isolated and pouring herself into her work – but the work was not the real distraction – the anxiety was. Martha’s worry and anxiety is the real thing keeping her from being with the disciples and listening to Jesus’ teaching.
When Jesus speaks to Martha, he is calling her away from her anxiety and worry, and reminds her that the “duty of the love of God and obedience to God’s Word take precedence over all other concerns.” It’s so easy to become distracted from God. There is what seems to be a mountain of things to worry about in life: work, finances, home, health, friends and family.
The truth of the matter is that all of us are part Mary and Martha. We have moments of focus on God and we have times of distraction or anxiety. In our humanity, it is impossible to overcome anxiety and worry over the many things that complicate life. In the midst of this struggle we attempt to plan, work and decipher a means of happiness – a plan. All this striving can lead to feelings of longing for more in life. A telephone call with the answer you've been dying to hear, and we anxiously wait for that ship to come in that seems to hold all our answers. But the answer that we truly need – is that one thing that Mary found sitting at Jesus feet. Joan Chittister say's this about recognizing our deep need for God,
"The truth is that it is pain and need and vulnerability that lead us directly to God. We become a prayer. We throw ourselves on the heart of God. We look for the balm that does not exist in this world as we know it. Then we trust our lives to our only salvation - the love and mercy of God."
We are both Mary and Martha. While we long for the love and mercy of God, we anxiously seek other things to calm our fears. Sometimes we focus our life on God, but worry and anxiety can work their way between us and God. We are in need of God presence. But becoming still and listening can be difficult. But Jesus calls to each one of us, just like he spoke to Martha. Jesus is calling each of us into God’s family – just as he called Martha, Mary and his disciples.God is there to help us in all circumstances and to live joyfully in the knowledge that we are truly, fully and wholly beloved. There is no need to anxiously wait for our ship to come in. Help us to walk from anxiety and respond to the invitation to sit a listen at Jesus feet – like Mary and Martha – and choose the one thing that will never be taken from us – God’s forgiveness, love and mercy.