Telling Jesus What to Preach

As they were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha received him. She had a sister called Mary, who also was one who sat at the Lord’s feet, always listening to his words. But Martha was constantly torn apart concerning much ministry. She suddenly approached him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister regularly leaves me to minister alone? Tell her therefore that she may give me a hand.”

But the Lord answered her saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and agitated concerning much, but only one thing is needed: For Mary has chosen good and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

The Mary and Martha story like any good story invites all kinds of discussion and application. One point to be made is that it’s always called the Mary and Martha story, when actually in Luke 10, Martha’s name is first. The history of interpretation has kept Mary first in the line-up.

But history unfolds, and the cultural issues that influence the way we think about and use the story shift with time — unless, of course, we stay stuck in the same old ways of talking about it. This story is much too rich for that!

Jesus comes to the village where Martha and Mary live. Mary sits and listens to Jesus teach, Martha hangs behind, working at important tasks, presumably serving food, setting the tables and chairs, mowing the lawn, etc. She finally she gives in to her frustration and says to Jesus, “Lord don’t you care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

Martha stands in a long line with the rest of us who have told Jesus what to preach. We can’t help ourselves, really, but it is best if we at least realize it.

As a woman from a tradition that for the longest time never encouraged women to teach and preach in the church, this story always seemed to me and many others as a way to champion biblical scholarship for women.

Ok, that’s a possibility.

But then there is the idea that if Martha hadn’t served all the people sitting around studying and listening to preaching, they wouldn’t have had any lunch. The joke is that the Marys sat around waiting for Marthas to bring them coffee.

Then we move to the idea that it’s Mary and Martha, not Mary or Martha. And, as this interpretation goes, we have to strike a balance. Following Jesus is all of it.

Ok, yes, that makes sense.

And then there is the thought that if we always work for balance, the story loses its bite. So, when we let it stand,  Jesus says Mary has chosen the best part. So we must all know that meditation and Bible study are either the real stuff or the stuff that fuels all the other stuff.

A reluctant OK on my part as far as this one story goes.

We should note that in another gospel story Jesus asks the question, “Who is the greatest, the person at the banquet who is served, or the one serving? I (Jesus) am among you as one who serves.” There is always more than one story.

Ok, so maybe we can’t or don’t need to sort all that out anyway — or at least any more than we have and usually do.

Maybe we should consider the idea of distraction. To stick with Jesus telling Martha that she is troubled by many things and that Mary has chosen the better part, that makes me think of how distracted we can get from the present moment and from, yes, the core of things.

Distractions cause us to miss joy, and to miss another person’s need for compassion. Distractions make us the star of the movie of life with all our wants, pains, and anxieties as the central plot — and maybe even the subplot. Distractions from our common humanity, our common need for love, acceptance, patience, and grace often leave us telling Jesus what to preach, “Tell her to help me. Lord, don’t you care?”

I hope to see you Sunday morning at DiscipleChurch at 8:30 am in Leonard Memorial Chapel.

Charme Robarts
Community Advocate


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