If you have a sibling or if you’ve ever had to work with someone who doesn’t always seem to pull their weight, you can understand how Martha feels. Can’t you just hear Martha? She’s loudly exhaling, banging pots and pans around, maybe even saying passive aggressive things like “I’ll be out in a minute Jesus. I want to visit with you, it’s just that it’s so hard for me to do everything in the kitchen by myself.” And Mary would stare up at Jesus, waiting for him to bestow even more wisdom upon her without a care in the world. Eventually, Martha lost it. “Lord, do you not care…” You can just hear the frustration in her voice. Of all people she expected to care, it was Jesus. I can imagine her surprise and her outright gobsmack when Jesus didn’t give her the answer she wanted to hear.
Now, before we dive too deep into this text for today I want to get a few misconceptions out of the way. First off, Martha isn’t a bad person. This text is not about shaming Martha for doing what would have been the anticipated task at that time: hospitality. Martha was trying to prepare for a guest. Second, this text is not about a woman’s rightful place. This text should not be read as women should be in two places: in the kitchen or at the feet of men, listening. If you’ve come here for that sermon, you are certainly in the wrong place. And lastly, this text isn’t about affirming one kind of lifestyle (a contemplative lifestyle) over another (an active lifestyle). Instead, today I want to talk about missing Jesus even when he is in our midsts, glorification of busy, and the invitation that Jesus gives to us all.
Martha had Jesus in her house. The expectation at the time was that she provide hospitality. Hospitality was a huge part of daily life in the time of Jesus. It still is a large part of middle eastern culture. I remember traveling to the Holy Land; we were told beforehand that if we were offered any kind of hospitality (food or drink) we take it, whether we like it or not. It would be seen as rude and inconsiderate to turn away hospitality. But Martha was doing what was expected of her. Yet at the same time, Jesus told her that she was distracted and worried. It’s not that she wasn’t doing great work, she was. But I wonder if Jesus was inviting her to come and rest.
How often does Jesus come among us, begging us to rest, to sit at his feet and learn, to soak in knowledge, to have a sabbath of sorts, and we either miss it or we’re just too busy? I find it interesting that when God created the world, everything was called “good” except for one thing, and that is sabbath. Sabbath is the only thing that, when created, was called “holy.” What a relief it must have been to Martha, perhaps, to take a rest from society’s expectations. And Jesus calls us to rest, calls us to recenter ourselves on that which is life-giving, calls us to just be, and we’re too damned busy to actually do it.
Now, please understand that I am not telling you all to quit your jobs and go lay on the beach (although if you can afford to do that and want to do that then more power to you). But what do you do that is life giving? I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, we’ve made busy almost a status of statement in life. We often try and “out busy” one another. “You think you’re busy? Listen to this….” I know I’ve jokingly said that I often need vacations from my vacations. Yet US employees in general leave 170 million vacation days unused every year. Like Martha, our work is good work. It is work that may even leave us really satisfied. But, at the end of the day, we are called to rest. We are called to step away from society’s expectations, and sit at the one who loves us unconditionally.
So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we take the time to rest? Why don’t we take the time for sabbath? Why don’t we stop for a while and rest at the feet of Jesus? Could it be that we’re missing Jesus? It’s possible. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us. And yet we treat him like anything else on our “to-do” list. As if Jesus is a light bulb we’ve been meaning to replace. We don’t take the time out for a few reasons (at least as I see it). One, we feel guilty when we do take time off to just rest and be. Two, we have a little bit of martyr in us. Perhaps people will feel sorry for us that we’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week straight for the last 18 years. And three, if we take the time to slow down, that means we just might have to listen for Christ and to Christ and do we really want to hear what he has to say to us?
Martha isn’t trying to avoid Christ. She’s not making herself a martyr. She might be dealing with guilt (especially again, because hospitality was expected). But it is as if Jesus is saying to her “Martha, I don’t care about any of that. Just put that stuff down and come and relax. Listen to me.” What keeps you from sitting at the feet of Jesus. Are you afraid of what Jesus might say to you? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a message of love that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t deserve? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a word of forgiveness that you’ve craved but keep denying? Are you afraid that instead of hearing judgement and condemnation, that you might hear mercy, peace, and the desire to love you? That is scary, my friends. If we keep ourselves busy enough we don’t have to be vulnerable.
It goes against everything this culture stands for to stop what you’re doing and sit at the feet of the one who gives life. It goes against everything that society says we should want to bask in the knowledge and love of the one who gives us love. And it is most certainly counter-cultural to not be busy. Perhaps it’s time that we start to “busy” ourselves with just being. Maybe we should busy ourselves being in the presence of the one who calls us to be. Nothing else in this life matters, my brothers and sisters, if we have nothing and no one to call on. Nothing else in this life matters if we are counting on ourselves or our own actions to ensure our salvation. Maybe if you won’t hear Jesus, you’ll hear me: I am giving you permission to rest. I am giving you permission to no longer cower and cave under what society expects of you. I am giving you permission to sit at the feet of the one who loves you and be reminded what it means to be loved, be washed, be fed, and be freed. I am giving you permission to be Mary and Martha in a world that expects you to be either one or the other.