Sermon: There’s Something About Mary

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

Haven’t you noticed how crazy our lives get in Silicon Valley?  We have obligations upon obligations.  And what happens quite often is that we get so caught up in what we OUGHT to do that we don’t stop to think what we SHOULD do.  And this is precisely with what our lessons for today deal.

In our Gospel lesson, we have Martha and Mary.  Martha is rushing about, trying to be the consummate hostess while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, doing nothing to help Martha.  And, after a while, Martha becomes very annoyed. She turns to Jesus and says:

“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.”

It is then that Christ tells Martha something Martha did NOT expect.  Jesus tells her that the problem is NOT with Mary.  Rather, the problem is with Martha:

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Do any of you find this surprising? The first time I heard this, I remember how shocked I was. After all, isn’t Christianity a religion of self-sacrifice and service?  Then how can Martha be wrong?  It baffled me to think that Christ would take this stand.

But Jesus often takes challenging stands.  Remember when the woman anointed Christ?  Remember how shocking Christ’s response was?

There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, “Why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”

Often when we are baffled by one of Christ’s statements, it is because the reference is taken out of context.  However, often we baffle ourselves – by our preconceived notions and on what we concentrate.

This reminds me of the story about a father reading the Bible to his young son.  The father read, “The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.”  His son got a quizzical look on his face, thought for a while, and then asked, “But Daddy, what happened to the flea?”

Sometimes we have to step back and look more closely at a situation in order to appreciate what is being said, and this is precisely what we need to do with our story of Martha and Mary.

In our Old Testament lesson, Abraham recognized what was important. He recognized the importance of his visitors, which included the Lord, and he recognized the importance to be gracious to his guests.  But, Martha was doing the same thing.  She ran around making sure that the Lord was well treated.  So, why were Martha’s actions, where she is trying to be gracious to her guests, wrong and Abraham’s correct?

What Martha was doing wasn’t wrong.  However how she felt about her sister WAS wrong.  And it was wrong because of so many reasons. When Martha asked Jesus to admonish Mary, she revealed a deep-seated resentment.

Martha probably felt superior on some level. She was doing what duty required of her, yet her “lazy sister” was shirking HER duty. I am sure Martha felt that she was in the right and her sister was wrong, giving her this feeling of righteous indignation.  Martha was also sure that she would be praised and her sister scolded.  But, if Martha had thought about it, she would have realized that Jesus, in all His teachings, eschews such feelings of righteous indignation.

We are not to judge lest we be judged. Yet Martha was judging.  Remember that the Pharisees were replete with righteous indignation and the feeling of superiority.  Thus they would pray, “Thank you Lord for not making me a sinner like that publican!”  Yet, Jesus is clear. We are NOT to be like the Pharisees. We are NOT to cultivate righteous indignation.  And we are NEVER to feel superior to our brothers and sisters.

But, additionally, Martha was wrong because what she was doing was NOT as important as what Mary was doing.  Remember, Mary was listening and learning. She was taking this golden opportunity to grow.  Martha was not.  She was so wrapped up in things that really didn’t matter that she was losing out on what truly was important.

Many years ago, my father’s mother was visiting us in D.C.  This was one of her last visits with us.  Well, my father, mother and grandmother decided to go out to dinner on the last night of my grandmother’s visit. While pulling out of the carport, my father broke off an outside spigot which was on the wall in the carport. The easy solution would have been to turn off the water to this spigot and go to dinner. Then my dad could have fixed the spigot the next day. However, my father couldn’t let it go. He stayed home and fixed it.  Meanwhile, my mother and grandmother were fully disgusted and went to dinner without him.  My father lost out because of his inability to evaluate what was important and what was not.

We all have a very important lesson to learn from Mary, Martha, and Abraham.  And the lesson is typically Christian in that it is full of nuance.  It is not a steadfast rule that must be followed – that WAS Martha’s mistake.  Rather, it requires of us discretion and understanding.  The lesson is that, all of us must learn to distinguish that which is important from that which is not, and then do that which is important.  It is also to understand that in one circumstance, listening may be the important thing, but in another, being the consummate host is more important.

So, as Christians, it really is our duty to be BOTH Mary AND Martha.  We need to be both in order to grow as Christians. However, we need to be both WITHOUT Martha’s judgment, righteous indignation, and feeling of superiority. We need to be Mary AND Abraham! We need to listen and learn like Mary, and we need to serve like Abraham.

If we do not take the time to listen and grow in our understanding, we will never develop as a Christian.  But then, if we never serve others, we will have a great intellectual understanding of Christianity without ANY practical application.  We will be a tree that bears no fruit.  No, in order to be a proper Christian, we must be BOTH Mary and Martha.  And in our latest Newsletter, I discussed this very issue.

We need to be both workers and listeners.  We need to sit at Christ’s feet and learn what we need to learn.  And then, we need to act.  We need to love our brothers and sisters so much that we are willing to serve.  And in the end, we must grow in wisdom so that we can distinguish between when we need to be Martha and when we need to be Mary.

At our current junction in our church, we need to be like Mary right now.  Like the title of the movie, there is something about Mary, there is something that we need to emulate.  And one thing we need to emulate is that we need to sit at our Master’s feet and learn.  We ALL need to participate in our new program, Christianity Explored.  We will start this program Wednesday, August 11 at 6:30.  Please join us as we start to grow together in our love, our spirituality, and our knowledge of Christ.  And in the end, I pray that we all may be better Marys and Marthas with the discernment to know when we should be one or the other or both.




Categories: Sermons