38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10)
Memorial Day and Labor Day: they serve as traditional bookends to Summer.
For those with eyes and ears to see and hear, they are also poles within which we live (or should live) spiritually: taking time to stop and gratefully remember… and getting up to work and do.
In the Mary-Martha text, above, the common conclusion (with some justification) is that the fundamental feature of being Christian is our needing to be like Mary who “choose the better part” by resting and sitting at Jesus’ feet. Poor Martha is given a bad rap.
To be sure, the Christian life is a matter of rest. Here, there’s a “Memorial Day” quality to our lives and living as Christians: reclaiming Sabbath in our lives, taking time to remember the fundamentals, celebrating the lives and sacrifices of those who have brought us to this point.
However, such a reading of the text ignores a necessary opposite pole in the Gospel — and in our Faith. For in the verses leading up to the Mary-Martha text, we are given the account of a Good Samaritan who befriended an fallen enemy, bandaged his wounds, served as his ambulance to a local inn, and fully paid his way — to the point he was back on his feet. And Jesus’ conclusion to this story—in a verse that immediately precedes today’s reading? “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
“Go and do”: there’s the other necessary pole in the tension of the faith. There’s the “Labor Day” bookend of our Faith: “It’s time to get back to work!”
“Sit at Jesus feet”… “Go and do”: it’s the rhythm of a full and whole faith.
Sometimes we feel like we need
to choose between Mary or Martha.
For me, though, that’s a false dichotomy.
Mary AND Martha:
that’s the key –
the tension worth maintaining,
the paradox worth embracing:
that the Christian life is a pulsating, rhythmic journey
of reaching up… and reaching out,
of Mary and Martha,
of the inward journey and the outward journey,
of going and doing… and sitting and being still,
of advance and retreat,
of contemplation and action.
“Don’t just sit there… do something!”
needs to be balanced by
“Don’t just do something… sit there!”
Even so with our lives:
Our Sabbaths are not ends in themselves.
Nor is our work.
But both have a way of feeding off of each other
and giving each other meaning –
each serving to bring out the fullness of the other.
God grant us the grace
to walk the balance
between the Memorial times
and Labor times
of our days and seasons.