By Chuck Alley
Reading from the Gospel of Luke, 10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
When we interpret things based on our understanding of fairness, we usually end up comparing ourselves favorably against others. Martha approaches Jesus in order that he will rule on her behalf and make Mary do what she thinks Mary ought to be doing. Martha determines that her way is superior to Mary’s and, therefore, Mary does not measure up to the standard of what is right. Jesus will have none of it, because Martha is measuring a person’s worth based on how much one does.
Mary, too, is “busy” being a disciple; however, she has her eyes and ears focused on Jesus. Also, she is not demanding that others take the same path that she is taking. For her, Martha’s role is that of service and hospitality, while in this moment, her role is at the feet of Jesus. There is no sibling criticism or self-justifying superiority in Mary.
The story of Martha and Mary is one that teaches us a lesson about living in community. There is only one way to the Father and that is Jesus. However, there are many ways to Jesus depending on the gifts that we have been given. We are to be one in Christ. Our unity is not based on our approach to Christ, our method for following him, or our denominational label, but in obeying him.
Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.
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