Our gospel reading for today can be somewhat confusing and quite often it can be downright offensive to the women in the congregation. On first glance, it would appear that Christ is saying that we should just allow the world to go down the tubes, doesn’t it? Martha is working in the kitchen doing those things that are important to keep a household running and doing those things that are important to make a guest feel welcome. She is taking care of the business of the home and she is doing it alone.
Now, Mary, on the other hand, is just sitting there, apparently doing nothing. She was not helping with the tasks of the home and was leaving her sister to do everything. And in the end, it appears that the person that Christ is praising is MARY! To many people, mothers especially, this can seem like quite the insult. It would appear that what they devote much of their time to is disregarded by Jesus.
In our world, and throughout most of history, it usually falls upon the women in the home to get the kids ready for school, or practice, or rehearsal, or church, or whatever… In many households, it is the mother who keeps things running smoothly. But in the usual interpretation of this story, it is the women who do all the “behind the scene” tasks that seems to be getting the short end of the stick. It is the one who makes things run smoothly that seems to be getting told to just relax! And for those who keep the gears of life greased, that can feel like a slap in the face! If no one took care of the minutia of life, we would be surrounded by dirty dishes, garbage, dirty litter boxes, and stacks of mail! We need to take care of the hum-drum of life, but it would seem that Jesus is telling us to forget about these things.
Truthfully, I think this is a misinterpretation of this scripture reading. It is an understandable misinterpretation, but a misinterpretation all the same. I do not think Jesus is telling us all to do nothing. But I also do not think Jesus is telling us all to get so caught up in the detail of life that we miss all the things that are happening around us. No, I do not think the story is about Mary, nor do I think the story is about Martha. I truly feel the story is about my mom.
My mom used to embarrass me in church when I was a kid. I am kind of ashamed to say that, but she did. You can probably guess from the way my voice carries, that it is an inherited that trait. And you would be right. I inherited that from my mom. And to top it all off, my mom’s voice carried even more than mine. Now also, my mom is a short person so the way we would find her in a crowd was to listen for her voice and navigate our way to her. We really didn’t have much of a problem. We could always find mom by just listening for her voice.
Now what made my mom embarrassing was that mom loved attending church. This in itself is not embarrassing, but she was always a half a beat ahead of the congregation in the responses. And when mom is in church, she responds with much gusto, and she often gets the words wrong. And we won’t talk about her singing. As a kid, this was embarrassing! I always wanted to say, “Mom, could you tone it down a little?” But even if the words are wrong, or the notes are not quite right, my mom is not a shrinking violet. When she is at worship, she is totally present! She is in the moment. She prays, she responds, she sings! And if the way she does it is not quite perfect, well, she believes God loves it anyway! When mom worships God, she does it with her whole being! When mom worships, there is nothing else going on. For that time, it is just her and God.
It took me a while to realize what a wonderful gift my mom had given me. When I finally got over the embarrassment of having the loudest parent in the church, I began to realize the wonder and the gift that I was witnessing ever Sunday. Mom was demonstrating to me, and to whomever else who took the time to understand, what life with Christ could actually look like.
When mom finally goes to meet Jesus face-to-face, I am going to miss her voice, I am going to miss her gusto, I am going to miss her enthusiasm. She is a hard worker and has done a lot for those around her. But what I am going to miss is the way she would give herself over to the experience of being in the presence of Christ each Sunday. When mom is at church, nothing else gets in the way!
I think this is what Jesus means when he says Mary has chosen the “better part.” It is not that she is doing nothing, but she has weighed the options and chose to totally immerse herself into the presence of Jesus. She had decided that “the dishes can wait and the floor will get swept,” and decided to allow the teaching of Jesus to enter into her heart without the cares of life blocking the way.
I think we all need to be reminded of this. We need to be reminded that our life in Christ is not to be drudgery; it is to be a joy! So often we get so caught up in the worry of the proper words or the proper tunes that we stop praying or we stop singing! We get so caught up in making sure everything is perfect that we forget why we are preparing things. Christ wasn’t telling Martha to NOT clean up the kitchen, he was telling her that maybe she should just let it wait until later!
I think we so often get so caught up in the things of life that we forget that we are in the presence of Christ. We get so busy running here and there that we forget to look at the wonders of the world around us. We are so consumed with doing the busywork of life that we don’t really live life. It is not that we are bad people, far from it! Martha was not a bad person, she was trying to do the things the world was telling her were important. But what Christ was asking was for Martha to slow down and to listen to what was truly important. Christ knew there would be times for cleaning and times for doing the dishes, but there were also times for just being in the presence of God. Christ is letting us know that we are to take time from the busy-ness of the world to just let our souls sing out!
The work will get done, but how much more energy will we have when we first rest in Christ. Christ calls us into his presence and then sends us out. But while in Christ presence, Christ doesn’t want to share us with the world. Christ wants our whole being. Christ wants us to be fully present. Christ wants us to celebrate with all the gusto we have.
There will be time to make the coffee. There will be time to pay the bills. There will be time to get things ready. That is important, but to take the time and be fully present with Christ, that is the better part.