Be Martha And Be Mary
July 17 2016
A woman was vacationing in a tiny New England village, a village where, it so happened, the actor Paul Newman was fond of vacationing. While there, she felt a craving for a cone of chocolate ice cream. She found a small café and walked in to get her chocolate ice cream. As she walked in, she noticed that there was only one other customer in the place, a man in jeans and a T-shirt, sitting at the counter having a donut and coffee. The woman glanced his way, then did a double-take. One further look at his blue eyes confirmed for her that it was Paul Newman. Newman noticed her and nodded graciously in her direction, then went back to his coffee. The woman got nervous at being around a Hollywood star, but tried not to act nervous. As calmly as she could, she ordered her ice cream cone. Her heart was thumping and her hands felt clammy as she watched the clerk scoop her ice cream and hand it to her. She then fumbled through her wallet and paid for her ice cream then left the café, proud of the way she had kept her cool in the presence of Paul Newman. Everything was fine, until she noticed that she did not have her ice cream in her hand. She had her change in one hand but her other hand was empty. She sheepishly went back into the café, and as she entered Paul Newman was laughing. He looked at her and said: “You put the ice cream cone in your pocket book”.
Now that’s a woman who was so distracted over many things that she forgot the important thing!
Who do you identify with the most in our passage for today?
Do you identify the most with Martha, who is busily trying to be a good hostess, but is distracted, perhaps to the point of forgetting what was truly important in this situation? Distracted, perhaps to the point of forgetting what was really important when Jesus was this close to her, when she actually had the opportunity to fellowship with Him, listen to Him, learn from Him, even worship Him and get to know Him better?
Or do you identify the most with Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him, fellowshipping with Him, learning from Him, even worshipping Him and getting to know Him, but leaving Martha with all the work?
Which of these two sisters do you identify the most with? Martha, intent on getting things done or Mary, intent on a relationship with Jesus?
Which one will you be?
That’s the way many people feel they have to respond to this passage, isn’t it? They feel this passage requires them to choose, to decide which one to be. They feel they have to decide if they want to be active like Martha or prayerful like Mary. They feel they have to choose to be like one or the other.
But is that really what this passage is all about? Do we really have to choose? Do we really have to be either Martha or Mary? Or is there a way we can be both? Is there a way we can spend time nurturing our relationship with Christ, and also spend time doing things that show Christ to the world? Is there a way we can have a balance between active Martha and prayerful Mary?
Maybe that’s what this passage is all about. Maybe that’s what God is trying to say to us here. Maybe the point is not that you have to choose to be either active like Martha or prayerful like Mary but that you can find a way to be both, that you can find a way to nurture the prayerful Mary within you that yearns to sit at Jesus’ feet and the active Martha within you that is excited about stepping out into the world with actions. Maybe you don’t have to choose to be Martha or Mary, but can choose to be Martha and Mary.
Can you be both Martha and Mary? Can you nourish both sides of your relationship with God and the world? Yes, you can. In fact, I propose that you not only can, but that you need to. You don’t have to choose between being active like Martha or prayerful and spiritual like Mary, you can choose to be both. You can choose to nourish your prayerful, Mary side and our active, Martha side. The life of Christian discipleship is a delicate balance between prayer and action, and it takes knowing which is the most important, but you can achieve this balance.
Jesus tells Martha that it’s Mary who is doing the most important thing as she is listening to Him, getting to know Him, establishing a relationship with Him, letting Him change her life, worshipping Him and fellowshipping with Him. That is certainly the first step to the life of Christian discipleship. Without the prayerful side of your Christian life life, the worshipful side, the side that listens, gets to know, establishes a relationship with and fellowships with Jesus, the side that spends time with Jesus and lets Jesus change your life, the active side of your walk with Christ will tire out easily. Without spending time on your relationship with Christ you are in danger of not doing the things that God would have you to do. Without the active side of your life in Christ, however, your prayers, worship, time getting to know Jesus and establishing a relationship with Him might help you but won’t help anybody else.
The life of Christian discipleship is not a matter of choosing to be active like Martha or prayerful like Mary. It’s choosing to be both Mary and Martha, prayerful and active.
You know, sometimes you may feel like Martha. You may feel that your life is so confusing that you don’t know which way to turn. Do you ever feel that way? Like Martha you may have times when you get so busy and so preoccupied with doing things and getting things done that you miss opportunities to worship God, let Him speak to you, and let Him really change your life so the things you get done are the things He would have you to get done. Like Martha, you can get distracted and worried about many things, and forget the one thing that is really necessary. Do you ever feel that way? Sure you do. We all do. There are times in our lives we all feel that way.
So what do you do?
At those times it may be time to nurture the Mary within you a little bit. Spend time in prayer, listen to Jesus, and ask God what direction He would have you to go and what He would have you to be doing.
The Christian life is not a life of either prayer or action, of being like Mary or Martha, it’s a life where both are necessary.
There is a passage in the Old Testament in II Chronicles 20. I’m not going to read that story to you but you might want to read it some time. In this passage King Jehoshaphat is king of Israel and the country is about to be attacked by an enemy much stronger than they. What does Jehoshaphat do? Instead of rushing out into battle, he calls for a national prayer service and prays for God to reveal His will to them. God answers the prayer, they step out in faith, and are victorious. It took prayer and action. Prayer, like Mary, to discern God’s will, then action, like Martha, to act on it.
This combination of prayer and action, Mary and Martha, is not easy for us. Too many times we want to rush into action without taking time for payer. It’s not easy for me to take time to pray and wait for God’s answer when there are things to be done or decisions to be made. Maybe it’s not easy for you, either. Too many times we all become like Martha, worried and preoccupied over many things, and forgetting what’s important.
It’s not easy in the middle of a problem or a major decision to stop, pray, and wait for God to speak, but it’s necessary. Then it’s necessary to act on what God says, which can be difficult, too. When you have important decisions to make or you feel under pressure in your life, don’t just be like Martha and act, be like Mary and pray, then be like Martha and act.
Some years ago I took a group of teenagers to Doe River Gorge camp in Tennessee. There they have what they call the “Pamper Pole”. You climb to the top of a telephone pole, then jump off the pole and swing on a Trapeze before you let go and are lowered safely to the ground. I learned a lesson about prayer and action on that pole. As I got near the top of the pole, I don’t mind saying that I was scared. I prayed. But no matter how hard I prayed my prayers couldn’t get me down from the top of that pole. I had to act. I had to jump. And when I did, I was lowered to the ground by those holding the rope I was secured to. It took prayer, and it took action.
The life of Christian discipleship is not a choice between being active like Martha or prayerful like Mary, it is a choice to be both prayerful and active. There may be times in your life when you may feel that you are on top of that Pamper Pole. You may be scared and know you have to do something, but not know what to do. Particularly at those times, pray. Listen for God to tell you what to do. And then act on what God tells you. Make that leap of faith, and know that God is not going to let you fall, as long as you seek and act on His will.
You don’t have to choose to be active like Martha or prayerful like Mary. You can choose to be both. You can choose to be prayerful and active, active and prayerful. That prayer and action will help you make the right choices in life, and will help you grow in your relationship with God and others. Amen.