Friday, July 23, 2010

Finding Balance in the Mary/Martha story in Luke 10

The story of Mary and Martha is found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42. Five short verses always manage to spark the flames of controversy and tension among women young and old, with or without siblings. I'm no exception. This passage strikes a particularly tender, sensitive chord within me because the three primary characters are two sisters and Jesus. The dynamics between Martha and Mary are precisely the same between my older sister and me.

I've heard two sermons preached on this and skimmed through a book called "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World" by Joanna Weaver. Yep. I'm a Mary. It's a personality style. I'm wired to be reflective, to contemplate, and to listen.  Maybe there are more "Marthas" than "Marys" in the world. Most women I know resonate with Martha.

What I've come to discover for myself is that it's okay to be a "Mary." For most of my life I've wrestled with the guilt and shame of not being a "Martha." 

I would be clumsy and awkward at throwing a meal together for a large group of people, even though scripture commands us to be hospitable. Just the idea of laboring over every detail of an exquisite cuisine, no matter how delicious, is enough to send me fleeing to McDonald's to take comfort in a simple burger. Food planning, preparation, serving and entertaining is clearly not my gift. I can disclose that without shame today and stand in awe and admiration of the women for whom hospitality comes more naturally. I'm not saying I couldn't or wouldn't rise to the occasion if I believed that's what God was asking me to do. Spaghetti would be on the plate because it's quick and easy. Pasta from a box. Sauce from a can. (Make mental note: do not come knocking on my door if you expect a five star three course meal made from scratch.)

Hospitality is not about wowing guests with the latest "Martha Stuart" (pun intended) inspired concoction. Guests aren't there to critique the meal. They hunger for meaningful conversation and that's not as likely to happen if the host is too stressed about overcooked broccoli or dry turkey. I think that's the point Jesus was trying to make to Martha. He probably would have been content with canned soup, Doritos and water for his purpose in visiting at that time.

This story is not about proving Martha "wrong" and Mary "right."  On the contrary, they're both right. God does call us to action. The church needs people to serve. In fact, right before this scripture is the Good Samaritan parable where Jesus is trying to instill the truth that everyone is the Christian's neighbor.

Instead, we might learn to find the balance between quiet, reflective listening to Christ from Mary's example, and getting the errands run, the dishes washed and the laundry done from Martha's example. Yes, this is difficult to do and how to go about doing exactly that is the premise of "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World." (next week's blog) It's about respecting and honoring each other's differences and helping one another find balance. The "Marys" could gently encourage "Marthas" to slow down while reassuring them that what they have done is indeed appreciated. If a "Martha"  could just gently interrupt my reflecting and remind me to get the cake out of the oven, toss the salad, and pour the drinks, I would be ever so appreciative.

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