in the Mary and Martha story?
This Sunday, the story of Jesus' visit to Mary and Martha, from Luke 10, will be proclaimed in many faith communities across the world. It's short and you can read it below.
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Now, as far as stories go, even Bible stories, this tale seems to be pretty tame. Yes, it has sibling rivalry, but it has no stealing of a birthright, or even brotherly murder. So, in this light, the life-giving message of Jesus may not seem so urgent, maybe disciplinary, or corrective; but perhaps not as memorable as "I was hungry and you gave me no food". The reality is, that most of us would categorize this text and story under the heading "quaint".
But there's nothing quaint about distraction when it comes to things like driving, operating heavy equipment, watching children, etc. Unfortunately, I would guess that distraction is a much larger player in the various accidents that occur everyday, than mere chance is. In my own life, I know I'm "lucky" that distractions haven't led to anything major.
Most of us understand, even if we don't always heed, the danger distractions pose to us in certain situations, where life can change in a moment. But there is a spiritual deadliness to distractions as well, and the affect individuals and communities alike, and these things go far beyond technology. For instance, our work, or attempts to achieve and have it all, distract us from loving the lives around us, that can give us all the love we need. Or we distract ourselves with addictions, obsessions, and escapes that all have the same end result of cutting us off from life. There is a reason that an addict is always in "recovery" versus being "recovered", and that is because living a life free of addiction takes focus, and taking one's eyes off the path of recovery, of life, can easily cause one to veer back on to the path of death.
In our faith communities, "distractions" suck the life out of us. We are distracted by attendance, never having enough people, "active people", whether it is to hold the pews down, pay the bills, or sing in the choir. We are distracted by buildings, considering them, maintaining them, praising them, and securing them...though often not as much about using them. We're distracted by cash, worried that we don't have enough so that we don't have to worry about having enough money anymore.
It is to all of these distractions, whether they be physical or mental, communal or individual that Jesus says "there is need of only one thing." This word is not about supplying a one size fits all answer for every possible question or problem. It's about staying focused on what we are doing here on this earth, and that is living. This word is about focusing on the things that help to create and renew that life, the things of God, the things that Jesus embodies; love, peace, and merciful justice for all of creation.
Jesus' presence at the house of Martha and Mary may seem like a secondary part of the story. It's not. Jesus is there, calling Martha and all of us away from our distractions to give us life.