The gospel story of Martha and Mary is another one of those familiar passages of scripture. We have heard this passage so many times we can retell it by heart. We have had debates about the merits of faith and works over and over again. The truth is this story is not about faith and works it is more about our attitude; do we believe in the reason Christ came to earth or not.
What we do not know is how Martha, Mary and Lazarus met Jesus. We do not know if he was in Bethany by chance or he was invited to visit their village. We do not know how he came to be in their home. We do know there must have been other visits because the scriptures show us how close Jesus was with this family.
So let’s assume this is their first encounter with this man from Nazareth. They would have heard the stories of him and now he is in their village. It is Martha who goes out to welcome him and we can assume he is invited to stay or at a minimum dine with Martha’s family. They obviously are more than curious and we can believe they want what he is offering. It is this desire for what he offers that should drive each of us to invite him into our lives.
What is it that Jesus offered them and offers us? In his own words he offers us eternal life, peace, joy and intimacy with the father. Isn’t this everything we desire and isn’t the desire for those in our life the thing that drives the human heart to attain them? The promises spoken by Jesus are very specific. Yet we seek those very things from every source in the world except from the one who promised them to us. Paul noted in his letter to the Galatians remarks how excited they were by the things offered by God and yet they sought those things by their own effort – what Paul refers to as the flesh. This is the story of Martha for she begins by going out to welcome Jesus into her home and ends up ignoring him so she could serve him.
I do not want to imply that we should not use our gifts to serve our God and to build the kingdom. If you have paid any attention to my preaching you know I encourage everyone who embraces Christ to use their gifts to spread the good news of salvation in word and in action.
Yet I do want to take a hard look at this contrast between Martha and Mary in order to have us understand a spiritual truth. That spiritual truth is Jesus came and died in order to restore our broken relationship with the father. His coming to the earth should convince us of the depth of God’s desire for this intimate relationship with us. God sees us as we were created reflecting his glory. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s mercy for the times we have sinned; it is a free gift of love. This is the image of the prodigal son’s father, running to embrace him and celebrating his desire for forgiveness.
Jesus looked at Martha’s effort to serve him and tells her she is anxious and afraid. He tells her Mary has chosen the better part. Does this mean we are to do nothing more than to sit and meditate or only contemplate on spiritual truths? No but it does tell us something about how we choose to serve God. I know individuals who go to mass daily; I know individuals who regularly attend adoration; I know individuals who serve the poor in soup kitchens; I know many ways people live out their faith by ministering to our young. I do not know their motivation for doing the things they do and there in lies the challenge for us.
What is it that motivates us to do the things we do living out our faith? You know I am fond of using the passages about Jesus chastising he Pharisees to remind us about the dangers of religious piety. I know firsthand the dangers of getting caught up in one’s own spirituality and how it can lead me away from listening to the voice of God. When I stop listening to God’s voice I find that I begin doing my will instead of God’s will. Martha on that day began with welcoming Jesus into her life only to end up living her desire to be close to Jesus on her own terms.
What is it you seek from the way you live your spiritual life? If you believe you can attain the promises of God by service then perhaps you are in danger of falling into Martha’s trap. You can easily get so involved in the things you are doing that you stop listening to the desire of God. However, if your desire is only to do the will of God, your journey will be full of surprises and uncertainty for it is dictated by him instead of us.
Yet you will find God present in ways that will have you standing in awe at the things you discover. If your desire is only to do the will of God you will find the Holy Spirit a constant companion guiding you to new understanding of the words of scripture and you will hear his voice guiding you. The Spirit will challenge you to never becoming complacent with your spiritual life. You will discover spiritual truths in the lyrics of music, lines spoken in movies, books and poetry. You will discover God in the beauty of nature and the ugliness of violence. You will discover a new sense of purpose and direction moving you into the very heart of God. You will discover the reality of forgiveness in the loving arms of the Father and you will discover the freedom of mercy. By constant listening to God you will find your faith deepening and you will be motivated by a knowledge of your destiny; God’s plan for you life. You will find new ways to use your gifts to bring others to a knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice.
What part of God do you desire – serving in order to please him or pleased to sit at his feet and listening to his voice leading you to live the life he has planned for you.