Are you a Mary or a Martha?
That’s the question most people will want to ask themselves when they hear the story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha, two very different sisters (Luke 10:38-42). Martha welcomes Jesus, as a good host should, but then is too busy to visit with him because of the many chores that go with running a household, especially one with an important guest in it. Mary, on the other hand, just sits and listens to Jesus talk.
That’s a little annoying to Martha who asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. But Jesus tells Martha that it’s Mary who’s doing the right thing. In her haste to be the perfect hostess, Martha has lost the focus on her guest, but Mary has found the one thing that’s needed: time with Jesus.
So, clearly Jesus thinks everyone should be more like Mary, right? Drop all that busy-ness and pay attention to Jesus. Just chill. Relax. Doing is not as important as listening.
Sure. In this moment. Sure.
And that’s the point, don’t you think? Jesus isn’t meaning to take sides and make a universal statement about our behaviour, he’s making an observation about this moment.
Here’s another moment when Jesus isn’t an either/or kind of guy, he’s an and/with. There’s a time for busy-ness and there’s a time for rest. Both are necessary. That’s even more obvious when we read what’s around this story in Luke. Before Jesus is welcomed to the home of Martha and Mary, he’s talking to a lawyer about what he “must do to inherit eternal life.” What he must “do.” Jesus’ answer includes the parable of the Good Samaritan that challenges him to consider who his neighbour really is, when loving his neighbour. That story ends with Jesus telling him to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
That’s a whole lot of doing, a whole lot of living out the words that are spoken.
Immediately after his visit to the home of Martha and Mary, Jesus is asked to teach about prayer. He offers the words of what we know as The Lord’s Prayer and a story about the importance of being persistent in prayer.
Doing, listening, praying.
It’s not that any one is more important than the other in general, it’s discerning which is most important in the moment. Which is “the only one thing” (Luke 10:42) needed in this moment?
In our world of usefulness, utility, multi-tasking and rushing from one thing to another to see how much we can cram into 24 hours, it might not seem practical to focus on what really needs your attention in this moment.
But Jesus knows that wholeness comes with the interconnectedness of these things, not the dominance of any one. Each is important in their time, each offering an opportunity to experience a moment more fully and more completely.
It’s what makes their home complete: Mary, the listener, Martha, the doer, and Jesus, the Word. Don’t pick one or the other for all things, let your home be full and whole.