Mary and Martha

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Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But 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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Extended quote by Henri Nouwen from the book A Spirituality of Homecoming
We are needy people. We need attention, affection, influence. These needs are so strong that we may find ourselves arranging our lives in order to satisfy them. But this is a tragic trap because we can never find the attention, influence, or care that really fills our needs. This leads to a life filled with tension as we seek what we cannot find.

Why are we so needy? I think it comes from an awareness of woundedness. We have doubts about our selves. These doubts trace back to deep, early experiences that cause us to feel not fully acceptable as we are. We are not at home with our selves. From our feeling of woundedness we become needy. And in our neediness we wound others. There is an interlocking relationship between needs and wounds that stretches backward and forward from generation to generation. This is the context of what we call “love.”

The gospel breaks through this chain of interlocking needs and wounds. The great message of Jesus is that God loves us first and that we can love one another only because God has loved us first. Jesus calls us to come home to that first love, which precedes all human loves. This is the original blessing, the original acceptance, our original home. The Christian life means to love one another with God’s love and not with the needy, wounded love that can end up harming others.

Extended quote by D.L. Mayfield from a guest post on Rachel Held Evans blog entitled Martha, Martha
I know what happened Martha, because it happened to me too. I see your desire to single-handedly fix all the problems (feeding the disciples, cleaning the sheets, acquiring health permits, doing volunteer background checks), your deep-down desire to do good. How this desire, left on its own, morphed into a series of programs and activities that ultimately kept you from Jesus. I see how we got confused about it all, and took the easy route of fixing problems instead of becoming engaged with the lives of those around us. How we found our safety and security in doing, and eventually became brittle with the loneliness of trying to become the savior, instead of listening to him.

I do find comfort in this: Jesus doesn’t shame you. He calls you by name, twice (“Martha, Martha”, the first time cutting through your heart, the second time healing it). He gets to the root of all your existential angst, and he shows that there is no need for the amount of space you carve out for anxiety, worry, righteous indignation.

Instead, paradoxically, it turns out we find Jesus when we sit down, when we fall at his feet and listen. This is, he says, the very best thing, and it can’t be taken away from us unless we do it ourselves. The busyness of the savior complex, our quick-response culture, even our desire to do good with the limited amount of time that we have–can take Jesus, his love and his grace,  away from us. But he wants us, Martha, and he likes us even when we aren’t saving anyone. We are just his children, the ones he knows by name, and he wants to be with us.

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