17th July – Andrea’s Letter: Mary and Martha

17th July 2022

5th Sunday after Trinity 2022  St Andrew’s Milngavie

Dear All

Today we gathered to celebrate the fifth Sunday after Trinity.

Harry once again very kindly played for us in Gordon’s absence.

Notices for this week:
Tuesday 10am Prayer Group in the Garden Room.
Thursday 10am Said Eucharist followed by coffee in Friendship House
2pm Vestry – Garden Room

Readings for next Sunday – Sixth Sunday after Trinity
Genesis 18:20-32  Colossians 2:6-15    Luke 11:1-13

Today’s readings

Luke 10:38-end

Genesis 18:1-10

Colossians 1:15-28

This week several candidates for the Tory leadership have presented their manifestos and profiles in the hope of securing votes for the prime role in politics. In a similar way preparing for job interviews also involve a level of personal profiling which means reflecting on what sort of a person you are in terms of personality, work and leadership style.

The short, charming story of Mary and Martha which we have just heard is a good example of character profiling. Martha is a doer – Mary is a listener.

It begins with Jesus arriving in Bethany, Martha immediately welcomes Jesus into the home she shares with her sister Mary.   She then busies herself with the tasks of serving their guest. Meanwhile her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. Instead of assuming the role expected of women in her culture, she takes her place at the feet of Jesus, rather like a student learning at the feet of a rabbi, a role traditionally reserved for men.

But then Martha, distracted by her many tasks, comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” Luke 10:40

Many of us may applaud Mary in her inversion of traditional roles.   But also, many may empathize with Martha’s resentment of her sister, for leaving her to do all the work.   Jesus’ response to Martha seems less than empathetic, chiding her for her distraction and worry, and praising Mary: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.   Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” Luke 10:41-42

The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality, certainly Jesus commends this kind of service to others – we think of the parable of the Good Samaritan that we heard last week.   The problem with Martha is not her serving, but rather that she is worried and distracted.

The word translated “distracted” in verse 40 has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions. The point is Martha’s distraction and worry leave no room for the most important aspect of hospitality – giving attention to her guest, listening to him.

Jesus’ words to Martha should be seen as an invitation rather than a rebuke.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. The one thing needed is for Martha to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words, to know that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God.

Many people today are likely to identify with Martha – feeling pulled in different directions, feeling worried and distracted by many things – these seem to be common threads of life.   And yet, as Jesus says in Luke 12:25, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

We know that worrying does no good, and that much of what we worry about is not so important in the larger scheme of things, and yet we cannot seem to quell our anxious thoughts and frantic activity.

It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from the noblest of intentions. We want to provide for our families, children, friends and neighbours, and yes, we want to serve the Lord.   Indeed, where would the church be without our “Marthas,” all of us who work so hard to maintain the church and offer hospitality and welcome to all.

And yet if all our activities leave us with no time to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, we are likely to end up anxious and troubled. We are likely to end up with a kind of service that is devoid of love and joy and is resentful of others.

Luke leaves this story unfinished.  We do not know what happened next – whether Mary and Martha were reconciled, whether they were all able to enjoy the meal that Martha had prepared, whether Martha was finally able to sit and give her full attention to Jesus.

We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service.