More Mary, less Martha

As a church leader, this reflection on Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42 (this Sunday’s scripture) gets under my skin in a good way. I know it’s true, and it calls into questions my own priorities.

Unfortunately, often when things get busy, the first thing to go is time with the Lord. The elders with whom I serve in a local church have made a pledge to one another to be leaders of prayer. This has meant a commitment to meet each Tuesday morning together or breakfast from 6:30 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. to pray for the needs of our church as noted in the weekly prayer requests collected at our service. As I calculate it, we spend about three times the amount of time together praying or getting prepared to pray as we do in tackling church business directly in in group discussion. But even the way I have put this is misleading, for when we pray, we doing the work of leadership for the church. Before activity can be meaningful and done with sensitivity, it should be bathed in prayer. I suspect many of us could use a little more Mary and a little less Martha in our lives.[†]

Even as I want to say a hearty “Amen” to this, a part of me resists. Let’s say I became part of the kind of weekly prayer meeting that the author describes. The thought of it causes stress: It’s not as if I’m eager for another obligation in my weekly schedule—I have enough of those, thank you. I’m sure you do, too.

In saying that, however, I’m misreading what the author is saying: he’s not saying we need “a little more Mary and exactly the same amount of Martha.” He’s saying more Mary and less Martha. That difference is crucial: Jesus isn’t telling Martha, “Mary is doing the right thing at this moment, but don’t worry: she’ll make up all her other work later.”

If we take Jesus’ words to heart (not only the words of this commentator), Jesus seems to be saying that discipleship is about setting aside some of the Martha-work and replacing it with Mary-work. Are we willing to do that? Can we trust in the Lord enough to do that?

Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 306.

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