Before we get going, I have a question for anyone who cares to respond, I will be officiating at my father-in-law’s funeral this Friday (10:00 AM at First Baptist Regina if you are in town and interested) and will in all likelihood record whatever I say, let me know if you would like me to post it here.
Every so often I find myself forgetting what the Gospel accounts actually are and fall into believing they are a chronological account of the life of Jesus from the perspective of a modern (okay really mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century) historian who is interested in and thinks they actually can provide “just the facts.” Then I give my head a shake, renounce nonsense for the umpteenth time, and remind myself the Gospel accounts are documents, carefully put together, which are making a point, multiple points. We have no idea if the Gospel text for today, the “Mary and Martha Story” as it is sometimes called, came chronologically immediately after the “Story of the Good Samaritan” and it doesn’t matter. I suppose it is possible it is a coincidence these stories are adjacent but I don’t think so.
If I’m correct, and there are some biblical scholars who also think this way, why would these two stories be juxtaposed this way? I suggest it is to make sure we don’t fall into yet another false dichotomy; this time between being/listening and doing. The story of the Good Samaritan is one of doing. The Samaritan does the work needing doing. The story of Mary and Martha is a story of listening rather than doing. The two stories serve as correctives for each other. We can be all too concerned about either “end” of the being to doing continuum to the detriment of the other. There is a time for doing, just as there is a time for listening. Martha had an opportunity to listen but chose instead to focus on other, also important, things. It is all to easy for us to sum up this story as “Mary is right/good/virtuous/spiritual” and “Martha is wrong/non-spiritual/foolish/vain (yes I’ve heard it)” but this story has a lot more going on than a simplistic good vs bad narrative.
Give one or both of the sermons a listen and let me know what you think. One of the things I hope I provided was a set of questions you can ask yourself when you find yourself in a Mary/Martha situation, regardless of which sister you are, which will give you some insight into what you might be doing and how you might do it better.