“Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Jesus says this to a woman who is trying to get dinner on the table for many guests with no help. Martha is alone in the kitchen while her beloved sister sits at Jesus’ knee in peaceful contemplation of her Lord.
Martha has asked Jesus to make her sister get up and help her. “Jesus,” she complains, “ “Do you not care that my sisterhas left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” Jesus answers her, “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.”
Sorry, but at this point in the story I want to ask Jesus exactly how does he expect to get fed? I relate and I believe that many women relate to fuming Martha in this story. She has probably had to kill and butcher an animal for dinner. Haven’t we all been there? Well, no, we haven’t. We have freezers, microwaves, even KFC in a pinch. Martha had none of these. So she is distracted and irritable.
In the meantime, her sister has flouted all social convention of the time by sitting and listening to Jesus. This is unheard of behavior for a first century woman! Worrying about her sister’s reputation is adding to Martha’s distraction.
But Jesus stands up for Mary. He praises her for knowing what is truly important in this world, for choosing God’s word over woman’s work. Praising a woman for this radical choice is incredible. Maybe Jesus is also pointing out that Martha is so distracted and cranky about cooking that she is unable to lose herself in the NOW of His presence.
We are living in a distracting time (excuse me a sec while I check my email, messages, and Facebook). It is harder and harder to genuinely focus on what is at hand. I find that going to church is one guaranteed time each week that I am 1) free from computers and phones, 2) able to rise above daily concerns and focus on bigger things and 3) happy to sing loudly in my terrible voice, with complete unselfconsciousness, utterly losing myself in the NOW of the Holy Spirit!
Christ wants Martha to do the work that needs to be done but do so mindfully, putting aside her anxiety and distracted air. He is chiding her to Be Here Now. Mary is focused on the one thing while Martha is seething with resentment. Some say that holding onto resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Doesn’t do much good, does it?
So let’s try to join Mary, putting aside distractions and focusing on “the one thing” more often! Let’s sit quietly and allow the still, small voice of God a chance to be heard. And if we find ourselves alone in the kitchen doing all the work … let’s be fully present and focus on that with joy!
Corby Varness is a lay preacher at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Montesano.