For the past few years, I’ve been ruminating on the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 — a relevant passage for this period in my life. Lately I’ve been putting some of these ideas on paper (or, more accurately, screen), but I see that my musings are making for much more than just one post. I am constantly encountering the ideas in this passage as I make decisions about work, parenting, rest, and daily chores, all while I seek to live in the present moment and listen to God. So let me offer here the first in a series of twelve posts about the marriage of work and worship with Jesus.
Let’s start with the text:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10.38-42 (NRSV)
For me, meditation often begins with my version of InterVarsity-style manuscript study.
Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
What was he saying?
I’ve wondered if Jesus was offering some profound teaching at the moment, or if he was merely unloading the weariness of travel.
What would it have been like to be there? Was Mary enthralled by his wisdom? Or was she merely listening to the difficulties of a road-weary traveler and offering some sympathy? Did she ask intriguing questions? Was she listening to Jesus because he needed it, or because she needed it? Or both?
Here is a beautiful mystery: God appears to enjoy our attentive listening as much as we enjoy hearing his voice. His relationship with us is that of a father, as described in Psalm 103.13:
As a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
As Mary sits at the Lord’s feet and listens to what he was saying, she offers us a picture of the kind of close and loving relationship Jesus desires to have with us — talking about everything (or nothing) and simply finding joy in each other’s presence.
Augustine speculates that no matter what Jesus was talking about, Mary was drinking it up. He writes, “What was Mary enjoying while she was listening? What was she eating? What was she drinking? … I will venture to say that she was eating the one she was listening to. I mean, if she was eating truth, didn’t he say himself, ‘I am the truth?’” (ACCS, pg. 182)
Mmmm….that sounds delicious. More, please!
Am I hungering for the words of Jesus as Mary did?
Am I ingesting enough truth to be satisfied?
How can I listen more carefully to his voice today?
Resources used in this piece:
The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke (New Testament Volume 3)
The rest of the reflections in this series can be found here:
- Did She Know? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 2
- What Is She Doing in There? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 3
- Thank You, Mary — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 4
- Talk to Each Other — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 5
- Does Anyone Care? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 6
- I Need Help — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 7
- What About the Work? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 8
- What Is the One Thing? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 9
- It’s Counter-Cultural — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 10
- Comparing the Sisters — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 11
- It Won’t Be Taken Away — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 12