Luke 10:25-37 – The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, July 21, 2013
â€œâ€˜Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many thingsâ€¦â€™â€ (Luke 10:41)
Luke 10:38-42 is one of those gospel neighborhoods where I readily say, â€œI laughed, I cried!â€
Ah, Mary and Martha.
Between Marthaâ€™s bustling and Maryâ€™s attentive listening, itâ€™s clear Jesus preferred Maryâ€™s perspective. But take a secret ballot in church on Sunday morning, or even in your local mall on Saturday afternoon, and see who wins the popularity contest. Iâ€™ll wager that Martha the hard worker may lose the popular vote . . . but not by much. After all, donâ€™t we need the Marthas of the world?
Iâ€™ve read that Henry David Thoreau, during his Walden Pond sojourn, used the same dishes and utensils, meal after meal, day after day. And why make his bed if heâ€™ll hop back in a few hours later? From his Walden . . .
Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.
But multi-tasking Martha accomplished things, from a three-course meal through a properly set table to a well-dusted living room. And donâ€™t forget, the Lukan passage had Martha welcoming Jesus. Where was Mary? Dabbing on make-up? Finishing a chapter in her romance novel on her Kindle? I have to admit, Iâ€™ve sometimes imagined that Jesusâ€™ reply to Marthaâ€”â€œyou are worried and distracted by many thingsâ€â€”came only after she set the food before him and asked if he wanted red or white wine with his meal.
Please, give me a roomful of Marthas.
And yet . . . maybe not.
How prescient this passage was; we humans have become rampant multi-taskers, list-makers and goal-setters. We are Martha-ing along to the loud drummer that demands we do more and better and faster and we do it all right now. Weâ€™re anxious that weâ€™ll never catch up. But, please, help me remember I am a human being, and not a human doing. And, you know what? We will never catch-up. But the drum of demands is loud and persistent.
Itâ€™s impossible for us to hear the other sound, the quiet drumbeat of rest. Of listening and learning.
Have you seen Billy Crystalâ€™s wonderful â€œCity Slickersâ€ from 1991? From first viewing to tenth viewing, I always love the moment when Curly, played to curmudgeon perfection by the late Jack Palance, tells Crystalâ€™s Mitch that there is one thing to â€œthe secret of life.â€ Curly, at this point, holds up one finger.
â€œWhat is the one thing?â€ Mitch will ask.
â€œThatâ€™s what you have to find out.â€
What did Jesus mean about â€œone thing?â€ Was Martha supposed to put the pots and pans and to-do list down and listen? Did she need to prioritize serving God rather than serving meals?
What is your â€œone thing?â€ What about me?
Truthfully, this I-laughed-I-cried passage flummoxes me. How can there be only one thing? While Iâ€™m not a type-A personality craving the more and better and faster path, I am a husband, writer, hospice employee, friend, a guy with hobbies and thereâ€™s always a good book to read or film to watch.
Iâ€™m tempted to conclude with a brilliantâ€”or not so brilliantâ€”final sentence to summarize what Jesus really, really meant. Maybe I would wow you . . . or not. Maybe youâ€™d thank me for my insights . . . or youâ€™d mouse-click away from this website to find an easy answer elsewhere. However, I can’t think of much to say.
Is there an easy answer?
Curly raised his index finger. Thoreau studied his thumbnail. Mary motioned for Martha to sit. And Marthaâ€”God love her, and God doesâ€”gazed at the forever messy kitchen and leftovers that should be put away and a thousand other things that drummed loudly in her head. (But then I imagine her settling beside Mary, a’wondering why it was that Jesus always seemed to talk directly to her . . .)