Sunday, July 17, 2016



                               Martha,  Martha, you  are  anxious and  upset                                                            about many things; one thing only is required.

Luke 10:41-42

Because I didn’t really understand it, I never used to like this Martha and Mary story very much.  In fact, I believed that Martha got a bum deal here.  Here she is slaving away in a hot kitchen, trying to get a meal on the table, while her sister Mary has parked herself in the living room with the guests, listening in on the living room conversation.  Even when poor Martha comes into the living room, mopping her brow with her apron, to ask for a little help, she not only doesn’t get it, but she also gets a quick reprimand for being such a workaholic.

These days, I understand the story a little better. Jesus is not condemning good deeds or hard work in order to praise contemplation.  In the sequence of the gospel, Jesus has just finished telling the story of the Good Samaritan, in which good deeds are praised.  In fact, Jesus ends that story by telling his disciples, and us, to go and do the same.  What he is doing here is simply reminding Martha of the primacy of listening to the Lord and also reminding her why, and for whom, she is doing all her work to begin with.  So this story is meant to balance the story of the Good Samaritan.  It’s not a matter of either/or but of both/and.  It’s a matter of action and contemplation.

Now I suppose this story can be read on many levels.  In fact, in the forty-six years that I have preached on this text, it has spoken to me on a variety of levels, depending on where I was in my own experience.  At some point, when I had picked it up and read it over many, many times, all of a sudden it took on a new meaning.  As I read it over and over, I kept saying to myself: “This story is about self-worth.  This is about self-worth!”

I know these two women.  They have moved into my head and they have been arm-wrestling for years over who is going to be in charge of my thinking.  For most of my life I’ve sided with the busy and anxious Martha.  But recently, as I’ve gotten older, Martha is really getting on my nerves.  Mary, after all, is the smart one.  Both of these characters want to serve the Lord, but they do it for different reasons.  Martha is that part of me that believes that I am not really worth much unless I do a lot.  Martha is that part of me that is always anxious, always lecturing myself, saying that I ought to be ashamed of myself for not being perfect.  Martha is that part of me that believes that if I accomplish a lot, then maybe I can make up for my deficiencies.  Martha is that side of me that believes that my worth is directly tied into what I can do.  If you have a Martha in your head, I am sure you too are totally exhausted most of the time by your busyness about many things.

I’ve just recently discovered Mary’s point of view.  Mary has a message for those of you who feel you “aren’t worth much” because you “can’t do much anymore.” Mary knows that she is already loved, and so she doesn’t have to do a thing about it except enjoy it.  Mary is that side of me that wants to believe that God already loves me, no matter what, just as I am right now, whether I do anything this week or not.  Mary is that part of me that wants to believe that God loves me and I am worth something just because I am, not because I am a priest or I’ve earned a few degrees or I can pastor three or more parishes at once.  Martha always leaves me anxious, but Mary leaves me encouraged and gives me mental rest.  Martha is always trying to do something to get God to love her while Mary understands that she is already loved.

Many of us grew up believing that God’s love is conditional.  We grew up believing that God loves us when we are good, quits loving us when we are bad and starts loving us again when we shape up. That is actually very poor theology.  God’s love for humankind does not have to be earned.  True, God calls us to better actions and behaviors, and certainly God does let us reap what we sow, but God never withholds love from us, no matter what we do or fail to do. That, my brothers and sisters, is the “good news.”

originally given at the Cathedral of the Assumption
published in: 
Renewed Hearts, Renewed Church
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