A restful attention to Him and his presence

The Scripture passage about Martha and Mary keeps roaming about my heart these past few weeks. In Luke 10:38-42 we find Jesus in the home of Martha. While visiting, Martha busies herself around the house while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet doing “nothing”. Exhausted and annoyed, Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me” (Lk. 10:40). This resonates deeply through the ages because the story’s reality tucks into our own histories. We each hold memories of working hard while another person slacks off. Maybe we did not say something, but we wanted to say something snarky. There can be something of a relief wash over us when we listen to Martha’s words, “Finally, someone is saying something!” Martha’s response goes deeper, though, because she expresses her hurt by Jesus’ inaction. We can imagine Martha feverishly preparing the house, cooking, getting the table ready, etc. while thinking, “Doesn’t Jesus notice that I need help? Does Mary notice I need help? Why isn’t Jesus helping me? Does he not care?” All of this comes through that one verse of Scripture from Luke (verse 40).

We would expect Jesus to immediately stand up and enter into the work with Martha. Or, we might expect Jesus to give Mary a nod towards her sister to help. After all, Martha’s service reveals a deep sense of hospitality; the work of hospitality virtuously builds a home for people, welcomes people, and reveals care and love. But, Jesus’ reply to Martha creates ripples through time, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk. 10:41-42). We still live in a culture that heralds a strong work ethic. This culture can often make a case for this presumption: If I’m doing something, then I’m caring about someone; and, if I’m not doing something, then I’m not caring about someone. Folded neatly into this picture of work and mercy twists a subtle, nagging fear: If I can’t do anything, then I’m useless, uncaring, and/or not worth anything. I think Jesus wants to withdraw this deeper cut from Martha’s heart to free her from the workaholism of her day. Jesus’ response puts things bluntly, Mary is actually the one doing what she should be doing. We can’t get around Jesus’ response here. But, the healing aspects of Jesus’ words desire to unburden Martha from placing her value, worth, or goodness on what she does or other people do with or for her. Jesus calls Martha and Mary to a restful attention to him and his presence.

During this pandemic some people have even more to do with children at home, work from home, and caring for other family members while figuring out finances and the like. This work needs done, because mouths need fed and family needs support. And, at the same time, some people have more time on their hands than ever before, and some of these Martha’s might be thinking and feeling like their lack of work, lack of needing to “do” anything, or other people’s lack of work means they are not valued, or aren’t doing enough, etc. Jesus wants to speak into those hearts and minds in this time and bring rest. Can those with time allow Jesus’ presence to fill them with peace or will they look for replacement tasks to fill in the space this pandemic created? Can the Martha’s see, even in this crisis, a gift of time to be present with Jesus who dwells with us? Can those loaded and burdened with the many new tasks and dynamics that burst upon their lives unexpectedly keep that “one thing necessary” at the center? Yes, these are times of challenge, but they can also be a time of going deeper in faith to rest in the presence of the King. Will it “accomplish” something? Will that get something done? No. It will accomplish only one thing, and do the only one necessary thing: it will be sinking into the very heart of Love, trusting that his unconditioned love really does make us friends – and not slaves – of his kingdom.

God bless you all in this time. Fr. Bline and I continue to keep all of you in our prayers.

Peace & Prayer,
Fr. Bearer