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How to be a Mary...


... in a Martha kind of world.

That is what today's Gospel lectionary reading from Luke 10:38-42 is all about....
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."
We live in a Martha kind of world don't we? By that I mean that we live in a world that not only invites but encourages and actively tempts us toward distraction. Martha was distracted with the many things she thought she needed to be doing. She was so distracted that she was starting to worry. Actually, it was probably difficult for her to remember when she had ever not worried. For worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts circling around a center of fear.

What are we so afraid of in our culture today that drives us to be so busy that we are constantly distracted, jumping from one task to the next like nervous grasshoppers? I think we are afraid that if we stop we will find that our lives are not really necessary. We are afraid of facing up to the deepest questions of life like: Who am I? What on earth am I here for? Where am I going? Does anything matter?

Jesus told Martha that there is only one thing needful. Can't you hear her response: One thing needful? You've got to be kidding Jesus. I have a hundred things to do and so I need help!

Jesus gently tells Martha that there is only one thing needful. Mary has chosen that one thing and it will not be taken away from her.

What is the one thing needful? It is to be like Mary, to sit at Jesus' feet and drink in his teaching.

But how can we be like Mary in our Martha kind of world? I think there are at least three steps:

1.    Choose to live more simply.


Psalm 116:6 says that "The Lord protects the simplehearted." What does it mean to be simplehearted? It means to be a person who is childlike in his or her sense of dependence on and trust in the Lord. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples? "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17)

But how are we to live more simply? I think there are a few things we can do. First, we can reprioritize and rearrange those things in our lives which take precedence over our relationship with God. (See Luke 12:29-31 for more on this.) It is not that we necessarily need to remove all other activities and become monks. Rather, as Stephen Covey used to say, we need to put big rocks in first.

What does that mean? Covey used to use the illustration of a glass jar set on a table with a variety of rocks next to it. He would show how if you put the little rocks in first, then the medium sized ones, then the large ones, they won't all fit. But if you put the large rocks in first, then the medium sized ones, and finally the small pebbles, everything will find its place.

What is the biggest rock we need to put into our daily schedule first? I think it is time with God. If we put that big rock in first, everything else will find its proper place.

That leads to the second step.... 

2.   Choose Jesus as our top priority.

We need to consciously choose Jesus as our top priority every day. That means spending time with him, sitting at his feet, drinking in his teaching. 

How do we do that when Jesus is not physically with us as he was with Mary 2000 years ago?

Well, we can listen to Jesus' teaching through Scripture, and we can dialogue with him through prayer.

But we are going to need help if our times of Scripture reading and prayer are going to be effective. That leads to the third step....

3.  Ask for the Spirit. 

Jesus says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13)

If we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit then God will help us through the spirit to spend time alone with Jesus every day. Then we will become joyfully focused in life instead of deadeningly distracted.

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