St Stephen Lewisham
21st July 2013
Two Sisters, One Faith
Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha was distracted with all the serving.
St Luke’s account of the two Sisters of Bethany Martha and Mary is one of several examples of how he draws our attention to the essential humanity of Jesus Himself, and those amongst whom He lived His earthly life.
All of us have known sisters who ‘don’t get on with each other’. It’s not that they lack love, but rather that (unless they happen to be identical twins) their two natures are just different and as a result they often ‘find themselves often at cross-purposes’, as we say.
Martha was one of those women who’s brilliant at ‘multi-tasking’. That is to say, she could undertake several jobs at the same time, in the way that Good Housekeeping involves, and bring them all to a successful conclusion. The success of every enterprise, whether it’s running a business, a church or a school depends on having at least one such person involved. If they fall ill, or go on holiday, everyone soon notices the difference!
But Sister Mary’s skill lay in another direction. She was one of those people who naturally enjoy forming relationships with other people from the first moment that they meet. People like Mary are often quite careless about the things which matter so much to Martha. They put things in the oven to cook and then forget about them whilst talking to their guests; they find that they’ve forgotten to buy any milk because they met a friend in the supermarket and they started chatting together; they rely too much on Sister Martha do all those things. So no wonder the Marthas of this world get annoyed with their Sister Marys from time to time!
Jesus’ reaction to their sisterly ‘tiff’ was not to say that either of them was entirely right and the other totally wrong. Instead he pointed out to both of them that it is necessary for His followers to understand that they must learn to get their priorities right.
But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’
It’s so easy, if you are like Martha, to think that the success of being a Christian consists in ‘running a tight ship’, of being a Church where everyone is equally concerned about the day-to-day matters. But that, Jesus says, is not the right place to begin. Being a Christian means, first and foremost, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ Himself: the kind of person who [sits] down at the Lord’s feet and listen[s] to Him speaking.
‘It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her’, he tells Martha, not meaning to suggest that Martha’s work is of no importance, but rather that, if it prevents her from forming that relationship with Jesus such as Mary had, then it’s something to beware of. If someone becomes too preoccupied with the practical business, it is only too easy for them to lose sight of the one thing that really matters!
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