Busyness. Sometimes it seems that busyness is just a given part of life. Rushing to complete a project by the deadline. Being stuck in traffic and stressing because you’re late for an appointment. Picking up kids from one activity and taking them to another.
Busyness. It makes us tired, distracted and stressed.
This is probably how Martha was feeling that day. Guests were expected for dinner. She had invited Jesus and his disciples. The house had to be cleaned and the food prepared. She had lots to do.
It was a great honor to have this rabbi come into her house. Everything had to be perfect. But there were so many things to worry about. Martha’s sister, Mary, was also there, but when Jesus and his disciples arrived, Mary went and sat with Jesus. This was unheard of. Martha may have been allowed to cook and serve a meal to the men, but women and men did not socialize. They did not share their meals together. And a woman would definitely not sit at a rabbi’s feet and listen to him teach.
A woman’s place was in the kitchen. Everyone in that society understood that. So Martha goes to Jesus to complain, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
I’m sure Martha expected Jesus to vindicate her position by telling Mary to return to the kitchen where she belonged. But instead of chastising Mary, he chastised Martha.
“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.”
“Mary has chosen the better part…” Mary had chosen to be a disciple. To be a disciple is to be a follower, one who learns from another. A disciple enters into a relationship with the teacher. A disciple listens to the teacher, spends time with the teacher, is willing to be shaped by the teacher.
It’s not that this invitation was only open to Mary. This invitation was open to Martha also, but she was too distracted to hear it. She was consumed with tasks, focused on doing, worried that everything wouldn’t get done. She didn’t have time to work on a relationship.
Like Mary and Martha, we are also invited to be Jesus’s disciples. In order to be his disciple, we are called to place our primary focus on our relationship with him. We are to allow our relationship him to be our first priority. This may seem challenging. “But I have so much to do!” you may be thinking. You may be thinking that you don’t have time to put Jesus first. I know. At times I’m thinking that too. At times I allow myself to get too busy, too stressed, too distracted to even pray. But when I do, I separate myself from the life of God. When I choose someone or something else as a priority above Jesus, my relationship with Jesus is weakened.
But when we make our relationship with Jesus a priority, we are strengthened. As we listen to him, we are shaped in his image. We are made strong. Mary listened to Jesus as she sat at his feet. We listen to Jesus as we read and study Holy Scripture, as we pray, and as come together in community and listen to each other. As we practice these disciplines, the Lord will be with us. We will grow in our faith and understanding. We can delve deep, asking questions and questioning assumptions. When we truly listen, we can expect the unexpected.
Our Lord will shape us in his image.
This does not mean that doing the ministry that God calls us to do is not important. But today’s gospel reminds us that action and work need to be grounded in our life with Jesus, the fruit of that relationship. As Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, her life was shaped by Jesus’ words. As she listened, she learned what it meant to be his disciple and this knowledge shaped her life.
This is true for us also. As we intentionally grow in our relationship with Jesus, we will be formed in his image. We will learn what it means to be his disciples. And when we make this relationship our first priority, we will be equipped to serve him through the actions of our lives.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.