Amos 8:1-12 and Psalm 52 • Genesis 18:1-10a and Psalm 15 • Colossians 1:15-28 • Luke 10:38-42
Several years ago, there was a popular saying: What Would Jesus Do? WWJD for short, the expression suggested that one can quickly ascertain what Jesus would do – the kind thing, the gracious thing, surely – and that the difficulty would be in doing what Jesus would do. But the difficulty is more than that. Often it is hard to know what Jesus would do.
As the Luke story opens, Jesus and 12 of his closest friends, presumably, have shown up at the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is frantically preparing food, while Mary listens to Jesus, sitting at his feet. Martha interrupts the conversation, confronting Jesus, asking him whether he cares that she is doing all the work, all by herself. Martha, it seems, is pretty sure she knows what Jesus will do. She's thinking, "he's a nice guy, a fair guy, right? Surely he will send Mary back to help me out." Jesus first responds by acknowledging that she is worried and distracted by many things. But then, he lets Martha know that how she is managing these worries and distractions are precisely the problem – her problem, and a problem which Mary will not be required to take on for her.
Clearly, this was not the answer Martha was looking for, nor the nice answer she expected to hear. In the long run, though, perhaps it was the kindest thing anyone ever said to her, or to many of us, who are also worried and distracted – pulled apart, almost – by many things. Stress, as it is commonly called these days, shows up all the time in the experience of having more than one "can say grace over," as the saying used to go. What is Jesus saying to all of us in the Martha boat?
To begin, Martha (and us) must let go of the need to be the favorite. Noticing her sister Mary seated at Jesus feet, she probably felt left out. Like a grandchild asking which one the grandmother loved best, Martha was trying to assure that Jesus loved her just as much, or maybe just a tad more, based on her doing all the work. Like the grandmother, though, Jesus' love was unlimited.
Second, Martha was challenged to reconsider how she was framing the problem: a person left to do all the work by herself. To see this differently, Martha would need to think about the other people who could help, to whom she was connected over many years in the same village. It would require her to ask for their help, a humble position she may not have been accustomed to. It would require her to have stayed connected with them over time, so that mutual cooperation in times of need was already in place. In short, it would require her to be a full member of her community. When guests are arriving and one comes up against the reality that she is no Martha Stewart, it is good to have friends.
Finally, Martha also has to let go of the need to be the perfect hostess. While trying to do everything just so can create a nice party atmosphere, it is often inspired by the desire to have others think well of oneself. When the need to serve the perfect meal is motivated by the worry of what others will think, it is an expression of anxiety. Martha is worried about many things, focusing on pleasing others to shore up her own lack of self.
Jesus had little interest in pleasing others or making them feel better. WWJD? begins with another question – what would Jesus think? Put more broadly, what is the truth here? Mary, sitting at Jesus' feet, was pursuing truth, and the self she was becoming could not be taken from her. Those with more solid self are better positioned to hear truth, and to act accordingly. They are also positioned to hear another's worry without taking it on. In highly functioning groups, each member avoids absorbing the anxiety of others, trusting that each can manage her own troubles and will grow through the process.
Colossians 1:28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
What is important to me about this day? Where might I be tempted to take more on than I can do? Where might I lean on others to do what is on me to do?
When did I feel overwhelmed today? Where did I see a larger truth than I had known before?