As Jesus and his disciples 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.”
In an Atlanta suburb, there was a young entrepreneur named Sarah. After many years of working feverishly to grow her own business, Sarah began to realize that the stress of her 70 hour work weeks, the postponed vacations, and the long working weekends, was taking its toll on her ability to continue her work and maintain the same enthusiasm she had when she began. Her work was no longer a joy, but it had become a burden. Sarah was reaching burn out and needed help. She began to do some research on the internet and quickly came across a local management conference that touted help for burned out executives. She signed up. During the weekend of the conference, Sarah learned about time management techniques and computer systems, which could help her develop new and improved work efficiencies. As the weekend continued, she was becoming more and more frustrated because the conference was all about working smarter.
On the last day of the conference, Sarah noticed on the schedule, a seminar entitled, “Refilling your Bucket.” She decided to give it one last shot and so she walked into the assigned room and took her seat. The speaker began the seminar by telling this story: A missionary worked in a country far, far away and her only job was to take fresh water from a small bucket and ladle it into the awaiting cups of the people she served. That was it. The missionary could only give from the bucket, when and if it was filled with fresh water. As she worked each day, she would notice that the water was running out and immediately, she returned to the well and refilled the bucket. The speaker paused and asked the group … when was the last time your returned to the well to fill your bucket?
In Luke’s gospel, he tells the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and how along the way, he and the disciples stopped at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. It is interesting to note that the focus in this narrative is on Martha and Mary and their relationship to Jesus. Martha’s relationship to Jesus was one of Host serving the houseguest. At this particular moment in time, Martha chose to be about the work of ministering to her guests. Her focus was one of being busy, anxious, and resulting in her being troubled because she had all guests that needed her service. The weight of the responsibility of her work was very great. She was serving the people around her who were hungry, tired, and who needed the hospitality that Mary was willing and committed to offer. She loved her neighbors!
Mary’s relationship to Jesus was one of disciple sitting at the feet of the Teacher. At this particular moment in time, Mary chose to be with the Lord and to sit at His feet to listen, learn, and be present. Her focus was one of being rested and at peace. Mary was present with her Lord and she recognized her own need to learn and take in
the words of the Master. She loved God!
The comparison of Martha and Mary is a wonderful example of the Christian Life. There are times that we need to be at work with our individual or group ministries. We are out there doing that which God has called us to do. There are times that we need to be at rest, at the feet of our Lord, in worship, in prayer, and in silence listening for that which the Master is ready to teach. The narrative of Martha and Mary has traditionally been presented as a narrative of one person who made a good choice, the other who made a bad choice. Martha has been seen as the disciple who made the WRONG choice. She was stressed out by running around. Mary on the other hand, has been seen as the disciple who made the right choice of simply resting at the Master’s feet.
The key to understanding what Luke is trying to tell us, is to recognize that the Christian life is not about choosing the work of ministry versus choosing prayer. The life of discipleship is really about doing both. Do you notice the language that Luke uses? He says, “Mary has chosen.” Luke implies that there was a choice of doing either/or at this particular time. This translation of the text indicates that Mary chose “the better part,” but if we look at the text, we may that it says, “Mary has chosen THIS good thing.” Mary chose THIS good thing at THIS particular time. For Mary at this particular time in her journey, sitting at the feet of Jesus was a GOOD thing. The point is that Mary and Martha were BOTH doing good things; Martha was serving and loving her neighbor, Mary was listening and loving God.
So if they were both doing good things, what was the issue? It seems that Luke is trying to teach us about balance in the life of a disciple of Christ. The key is that we are called to be both ministers to others (love our neighbor) and to pray, worship, and rest (love God). When we are out of balance, then we fail to live out fully the life that God calls to live. Like our entrepreneur Sarah, when our efforts lean too far on the DOING side of ministry, we burn out. We cannot continue to serve endlessly; we cannot without ceasing, ladle from our bucket of love without refilling it. Ministry can be draining. It can make us anxious and distracted, despite how many great things we are doing. We can only continue, when we make sure that we are spending time loving God. We can only serve, when we return to God’s peace in worship and prayer.
Our Lord took time for prayer. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read that Jesus was healing all who were sick or possessed with demons all day long, even up to sunset. The whole city was gathered around the door where he cured many who were sick with various diseases. Jesus, though, took time before he went on to Galilee the next day, got up early in the morning, while it was still very dark, and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Our Lord filled his bucket of love before he went out to continue ladling his healing and restoring love to those in need.
Loving our neighbor by serving those who are in need, those who are suffering, and those who are lonely is one of the great commandments. Loving God is the greatest commandments. These two commands go hand-in-hand, they are not an either/ or proposition because we are called to follow both. We must take time to pray before, after and during our ministries in which we serve Our Lord by serving others. We need to find time rest in the silence of God’s presence. We need to find time to receive the healing, loving, presence of our Lord. There is a time to rest, a time to pray, and at time to work. Remember that you can only give, from that which you have received. Re-fill your bucket so that you may be equipped to fill the cups of others, and it is this work, which we are most surely called by God to do.