What About the Work? — Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 8

These floors aren’t going to wash themselves, y’know.

This is the eighth in a series of twelve reflections on the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10.38-42. If you’d like to read the whole series, start with the first post , where they are listed in full at the end of the piece.

As always, let’s begin 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)

Sponge and dishtowel.

Add a little elbow grease and you’ll be golden.

What about the work?

Let’s imagine that Martha comes at this whole situation from a different angle — she experiences a giant leap in self-awareness, takes off her apron, and decides she wants to sit with Jesus, too. Even in this scenario, there is no arguing that there was work that needed to be done. People need to be fed, dishes washed, beds prepared. This wasn’t a Sabbath day; this was a day for ticking things off the list.

The Women’s Bible Commentary offers this simple thought: “The pressure of these tasks did not permit Martha to learn from Jesus.” (WBC, pg. 575) Is there an inherent discord between these tasks and learning from Jesus? What would have been the best way? Could they be combined, or delayed, or shifted? It seems that there must be a way to get the work done in the presence of Jesus. (Brother Lawrence , help us!)

I’ve been wondering about Jesus’s attitude toward work. It seems that he is in favor of it, since he was there at creation (with the Father and the Spirit) and they called their work good. It also seems that he thinks we shouldn’t worry about it, that things will work out, and provision will come like it does to the birds and the lilies (Matthew 6.25-34).

So when and how does the action take place? Is there a secret to performing tasks from a state of peaceful presence with the Lord? How does this work? Where is the sweet spot between anxiously preparing dinner and sitting around talking with Jesus? How could Martha have enjoyed the presence of Jesus while also making sure people were fed? How can I do that in my own home?

I think I know what the answer is, and it’s not easy. It’s about being friends with Jesus and listening to him. There is no hard and fast rule about when to work and when to stop. You just need to be constantly listening to God’s Spirit whispering to you, teaching you both to enjoy your work at the right time and instructing you to stop when someone needs a band-aid or a hug. How maddening to not have a clear blueprint! But how freeing, too — right? The best way is rarely an easy way.

How can I find joy in my work today?
How can I stay open to the voice of Jesus in my work?
What can I do to pay close attention to the humans around me today?

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Resources used in this piece:
The Women’s Bible Commentary

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