Amen, Amen, Amen! – to the story we’ve just heard, if your name is Mary, who’s chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him; but not “Amen!” for Martha, who hears Jesus say, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus is putting sitting over serving at the dinner party held as a “thank-you” for His having raised Lazarus from the dead, the grand occasion for which Martha has done all the work!
This Gospel read on the Sunday before the ASP send-off breakfast on Saturday may be a real life story for any of our ASPers who are certainly “Martha” persons, teens and adults, who turn the job site into a project into which they pour so much of themselves that they – like Martha in the story - can become worried and distracted by many things.
Jesus’ rebuke directed to Martha which the Gospel writer John counter balanced with his word-picture describing Mary at her brother’s tomb, encumbered with grief while Martha was filled with faith that moved her to proclaim:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
Martha’s “Amen!” in words which she was determined to turn into work, to prepare the best dinner party ever for her Lord and Savior.
In defense of anyone who sticks to doing whatever needs to be done, the name “Martha” has come to imply “worker.” In Canada, engineers make it a mark of distinction to belong to the society called “The Sons of Martha,” inspired by a poem of Rudyard Kipling with a sampling being these lines:
Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood
to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha
spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven,
not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind
in their common need.
In a simple inaugural ritual into Canada’s “Sons of Martha” an iron (or steel) ring is placed on the little finger of the working hand which rubs across every project on drawing board or computer as a reminder to uphold the duties and responsibilities of an engineer.
“Sons of Martha” may work to the point of exhaustion, like their namesake in the Gospel story, who had no time to spend with the One she was hosting; no time for sitting, only for serving – and that’s the point of today’s Gospel…passed down to us just in time to be a send-off story for our ASP teams and for anyone who may be
worried and distracted by many things…and miss only one thing,* which will not be taken away.
The “one thing” being the loss of focus, in a business, in a human service, in a government agency, in a school -
it is when the bottom line, the profit margin, the dividends paid to stockholders becomes the controlling factor or the pay-off, overpowers a respect for employees and a sense of responsibility to the public.
The “one thing” being the Martha-like worry we have in the church as we decline in the count of people and of money – of course both are needed, but when both become the all-consuming focus, they can deafen the listening ear to hear the Gospel words of Jesus: only one thing,…which will not be taken away.
The “one thing” being the living presence of the ever-present Christ, the Host at the table of Holy Communion and the host at every conversation, the Host Martha was so consumed in hosting, she lost sight of her need to be hosted by Jesus, no time to spend a quieting moment in His company; no time to savor the “Bread of Life”
she needed to taste more than the bread she had kneaded and baked and served. The “Bread of the Word” Mary was hungering to savor.
When we go back to the Greek in which the story was first written, we can pick up the playful inflection
in what sounds to us like a harsh rebuke to Martha.
The retired British clergyman, Rev. Bryan Findlayson, who now makes it his ministry to express the Gospel story in everyday English, has us listening in and hearing Jesus say to Martha, "I only need a few things for my meal so you don't need to fuss … ” As for Mary, …she "has chosen…the best dish.” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, (Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources). In plain English, “Martha, I don’t want a full-course banquet, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is enough, so we’ll have time to enjoy one another’s company.”
It’s the delightful, delicate balance – to do the work of Martha as a gift to Jesus, while taking a break from work to sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus and receive Him as a gift – the one thing, the only one thing,*
…which will not be taken away.
And one more thing that is needed, to see both natures are in us: the Martha-motivation to work hard to serve others in the name of Jesus, and the Mary-devotion to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to words of Scripture, and singing and praying.
Turning Jesus’ words into work, His words in today’s Gospel into the work of serving Jesus like Martha and sitting like Mary.
Who knows better than ASP teams, to be both a Martha and a Mary? By night, Mary listened at the feet of Jesus; by day, Martha turning His words into work, or as Canadian engineers hear in another verse in Rudyard Kipling’s “Sons of Martha,”
“And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed --
-they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed,
and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet---they hear the Word---
they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and---
the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!”
The rest of us have the same assignment: to see ourselves as back-home Martha’s and Mary’s who have both natures in us,the Martha that motivates us to work hard, to serve Christ by serving others, the Mary that moves us to pause and let Jesus do His work in us, to calm our fears, cool our anger, turn our focus from things we do to what God has done and can do – without our help, and in spite of us; Mary and Martha, two natures held together by two words: serving and sitting, hosting Jesus and letting Him be our Host.
We stay-at-home Mary’s and Martha’s wait in anticipation to hear the stories our ASP teams will bring back to us: a new set of personal confessions of God-moments (Mary-moments) that break into the hard work (Martha-moments) – and the evenings of worship, when the work of the day yields to the quiet time of the night,
and all of us, knowing we are both Martha and Mary, will daily ask ourselves at day’s end,
“How well have we let the Gospel story come together in us, well enough to be Martha and Mary now
joining in what only Mary may have wanted to sing at the beginning?
Let’s be heard singing, "Amen! Amen! Amen!