by Ellen Sims
text: Luke 10:38-42
On third Sundays of each month, Open Table’s worship service involves wide-ranging expressions of prayer in a contemplative prayer service. Rather than a sermon, a brief reflection on the Gospel text is shared before we move to various prayer stations.
Some approach today’s Gospel text as if it introduced the world’s first personality test. But you will not find in this story a Jesus-y Myers-Briggs test categorizing humanity into sixteen personality types. Nor will you discover the latest internet quiz promising to diagnose your personality based on your favorite ice cream flavor. (I have a pistachio personality). In modern Western cultures this rich story about sisters Mary and Martha has led some church folks to label themselves as either a “mary” or a “martha.” Have you heard people use that shorthand? They’re at a church social and someone says, “Where did Janice go?” and someone else replies, “Oh, she’s in the kitchen again checking on the casseroles. She’s a Martha, you know.” Which now has even creepier connotations thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale.
The prompt for our first prayer station today may hint at that overly simplistic dichotomy in order to provoke reflection. But the story of Jesus’s encounter with Martha and Mary is not intended to define some people as extroverts and some as introverts, or to describe some people’s “love language” as listening and BEING with a loved one while another’s “love language” is DOING for the loved one. In fact, today’s Gospel lection isn’t honoring two different but equally approved personality types. Jesus is clearly concerned about Martha being worried and distracted. Jesus commends Mary’s attentiveness and even her stillness. He honors the way she is fully present with her Lord. Although some read the Martha/Mary story like a first century personality test, personality was not even a concept in Jesus’s culture. So let’s appreciate that Jesus loves both of these women. But the story is biased in favor of Mary’s attitude toward Jesus. The story concludes unambiguously with these words from Jesus: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I don’t want to oversell this point and thus minimize the importance of DOING for others. But in this famous text read on this contemplative Sunday when we are intentional about, well, sitting with Jesus, we want to take time to sit alongside Mary at Jesus’s feet and LISTEN.
We live in a noisy culture. Just imagine how much quieter was the life Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus led–without motorcycles revving up next to them at red lights, or podcasts delivered through earbuds while on their morning walks, or nonstop news always in the background, half attended to, while they dressed in the morning or prepared supper at night. Imagine life without even the quiet but almost incessant hum of the air conditioner. Think of your life without the steady stream of distractions from your phone alerting you to the latest email or text or phone call. And when you and I do turn off or tune out the other distractions to listen to someone, do we really “sit at their feet” in an humble and focused posture and an attitude of love?
I believe this text suggests that when we do figuratively “sit at the feet of Jesus,” these are the moments that, to use Jesus’s words, “will not be taken” from us. Think of that. When we examine our lives against the things that endure, sitting at the feet of Jesus will bear eternal significance. Perhaps this very moment, my friends, as we appreciate the presence of Jesus with us and within us, is one of those times that “will not be taken” from us. I pray you and I can in some way hold onto this moment into eternity.
We pause now to listen keenly, patiently, lovingly, gratefully. (SILENCE) You are hearing your own breathing. (SILENCE) You are feeling the chair solidly beneath you. (SILENCE) You might choose in this moment to become more consciously aware of people sitting near you and offering a silent, loving prayer for them. (SILENCE) We are sitting at the feet of one another in this spirit of prayer. (SILENCE) We are sitting at the feet of Jesus. (SILENCE) Many moments have already sped by us on this Sunday morning. This moment “will not be taken” from us. Amen
SUNG PRAYER “Be Still and Know” p. 15 in songbook