It couldn’t be clearer in the story of Mary and Martha that Jesus values time set aside to rest, reflect, and listen to his voice. Jesus was not impressed by Martha’s productivity and perfection (See Luke10:38-42). I’ve heard this story all my life but seem to get pulled away from its truth on a daily basis as I feel compelled to value productivity first, as though my worth depended on it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wonder as Mary sat at Jesus’ feet if she asked the questions I and so many of my friends and clients are asking: “Should I be doing more to help? What can I do to make everyone around me feel better about me and my contribution to their needs? Am I good enough?” I wonder if she felt guilty, or if she was so captivated and awestruck by Jesus that it didn’t matter. I wonder if she felt a pull to help out just a little bit more. Or maybe she simply did what she wanted to do, and didn’t give much thought to Martha’s preferences. Whatever her thoughts, we know she chose “the better part”: sitting still and listening, in the position of a true disciple.
The toxic mentality of giving, preparing, and being productive in order to achieve a sense of worth wears us out. Jesus knows it. He doesn’t call out or shame Martha amid her distracted busyness. But when Martha tries to pull Mary into her whirlwind, Jesus sets a boundary and stands up for Mary. He knows and expresses that what Mary is receiving will not be taken away from her.
Productivity is regularly taken away. I straighten the house, and twelve minutes later there are socks and legos and food and bags and clothes and piles and papers. Everywhere. All five of us stir up the whirlwind again right after peace and order is achieved. My to-do list grows faster than I can cross things off. But my moments of stillness and meditation, brief and intermittent as they may be, seem to stick. There’s a shift in my attitude toward others, toward deeper compassion, toward a little more grace for my own shortcomings.
We don’t know how the story ends. Did Martha apologize and offer a tearful embrace to Mary and Jesus as she set aside her tasks and joined Mary on the ground at Jesus’ feet? Did she roll her eyes and resume her tasks, feeling hurt and misunderstood by Jesus himself? Did she veer toward deeper connection, or did she turn away in isolation valuing tasks above relationships? As with many Bible stories, we will write the ending with our own choices today. Choose the better part.
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