Mary and Martha Revisited

Martha_and_Mary_by_He_Qi_China

 

Sermons on Mary and Martha are given often enough.  The preacher expounds on the many attributes of Mary, and how we should emulate her.  Even commentaries favor Mary.  Although the time they give to this section of scripture is often paltry and predictable.  There seems to be little to explore in this story.  Little that isn’t obvious to see.

Honestly, I’ve always felt a little sorry for Martha. She gets trashed for doing what was culturally expected of her.  It seems that Martha was the oldest of the three.  The scripture refers to their home as Martha’s house.  Was she a business woman?  Did she inherit her wealth?  Was she a wealthy widow?  There is no mention of a husband, but maybe he was not important enough to mention.

Martha was the responsible one.  She had a home to manage.  Hospitality was a big deal in the Middle Eastern culture of the first century.  Martha had a reputation to maintain, and she took this role seriously.  I know that when I have visitors coming to my house, I want my house clean, and have enough food to more than satisfy them.  Their comfort is my top priority.  I cannot fault Martha in her efforts to assure that these honored guests would receive the most that she could provide.

Jesus’ comment to Martha seems harsh to me.  But there is a truth there.  Her visitors might have been grateful for simply a hunk of bread, a glass of wine, and plenty of warm water to wash off the dust of the road.  However, Jesus knew a truth the others did not: He would only be with them for a short time more.  His unspoken message, take the time you need with me now, because later will be too late.

I believe Jesus had a special place in His heart for this family.  He would later raise their brother, Lazarus from the dead.  He would mourn their loss of him, and give back to them what caused them such grief.  Jesus loved Martha, and wanted the very best for her.  His exhortation to her was meant for her benefit, not to tear her down.

When I look at this story of the two sisters, I try to place the story into our current place and time.  What strikes me is that Martha is the woman of this world.  She is the one having it all.  Working a job, maintaining a household, being productive and in this, getting full approval for all she does.  Our world, despite the sermons contradicting this, approves of Martha.  Even the Christian world nods their head at Martha.  All women should be Martha.

‘Idle fingers are the devil’s workshop.’

‘The one, who is unwilling to work, will not eat.’

The Christian world may say we should all be like Mary, because Jesus said she chose the better way.  But what is the reality.  Mary is actually the one misunderstood.

As we read about Mary sitting at the foot of Jesus, I think many of us are thinking Mary was ignoring the work that needed to done.  Look at her just sitting there when there is so much to do.  How lazy.  What a waste of time. There is a time and a place to sit at Jesus feet, but certainly not at that inappropriate time.

I’m pretty sure Mary knew exactly what was expected of her.  She lived with Martha, and she was raised in her culture.  She made an unpopular choice and took a risk of suffering under the criticisms she fully anticipated.  Her love for Jesus was more important than the consequences of her decision.  She longed to be with Jesus, to learn more about Him, to understand more fully what He was saying.  Did she have a sense the time spent with Jesus was limited and therefore necessary?

Despite the sermons and the commentators who validate Mary and what she chose to do, does our world truly find value in those who yearn to know God more fully?  Are we uncomfortable with those who devote their lives to seeking God?  What about hose who study and wonder and see God in every detail of life?  Does the value of a Martha undermine the value of a Mary?

Both women loved Jesus dearly, and He truly loved them as well.  There is no doubt of this.  Perhaps they simply showed their love for Him differently.  Yet Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice.  And as was the case in many of Jesus’ teachings it is an inversion to what the world would naturally think.  (The first shall be last, the last first, kind of teaching.)  He said it was the better way, which doesn’t necessarily mean that Martha’s way was not good.  Mary’s was just better.

I know what it is like to be a Martha, and what it is like to be a Mary.  The world around us validates the Martha in us.  Jesus validates the Mary.

Who do you want to be?  There is a risk in any decision.  What will you risk in your decision?

(picture by He Qi China)

Advertisements
Posted in Choices, Discerning, Experiencing the scriptures, Loving God | Leave a comment

My Tribute

I didn’t know her very well; yet I knew her my whole life.

She was an aunt, my father’s sister, and a stranger.  She lived on the west coast; we lived on the east coast.

She never married, never had children.  My father had four daughters.

She was a romantic figure in our eyes.  In WWII, she joined the service as a WAVE, and spent the war years teaching gunnery to the men going off to war in the battle ships.  There are pictures of her, probably publicity photos, this tiny woman next to the big naval guns.  She’s smiling at the camera and a hunky seaman is next to her.

I asked her once, “Was there any particular seaman that you liked?”

Her response, “I liked them all.”

She was pretty elusive about her life.

She loved California.  After serving in San Diego, she returned to Michigan to become educated and worked for the Ford Company for a bit.  Her project was working on the Mustang project.  She owned Mustangs all her life.  The last one, a metallic silver that “sparkled in the sunlight”, was purchased in 2006.  She was 84 when she bought that car.  When we sold it this year it had 11,000 miles on it, and it still sparkled.

But she loved California and returned to it sometime in the early 60’s to settle in LA.  She was an artist, who did illustrations for manuals and pamphlets for RCA.  Eventually, she moved out to the Valley.

She lived so long that she outlived her mother, then her sister, her step brothers and finally, her little brother.

When my sisters and I became more proactive in her life after our dad died, she was beginning the first steps into dementia.  But she was able to fill in some gaps of our family history.  Things our father either didn’t know, or didn’t think to share.  She was our last link to a side of the family that we longed to discover.  We learned our Irish grandmother’s hair went white very early in her life, and she had blue eyes.  Aunt Noreen looked like her.  Becky, you look a bit like Noreen.  The other Irish grandmother was dark.  Aunt Joyce and my Dad favored that side of the family.  Michelle looks like them.

In a short time, we grew to love this little woman who was polite, gracious, and stubborn.  She seemed to enjoy our times together this last year.  She laughed with us.  Trusted us to care for her.  Told us family stories.  Finally, she agreed to travel East with us in order that we could care for her more fully.  She quietly died on Saturday by herself, but I hope, not alone.  Various members of our family had been with her throughout this past week.  Something she would not have had, if she stayed in California.  That brings us comfort.

She will return to her beloved California.  It was our promise to her.  She will be warm, and the sun will continually shine on her.  And she will be mourned and missed by a family, who gradually did come to know her.

.Joyce and Becky

Posted in Death, Family, love | Tagged | Leave a comment

Imagine

the nativity

This is the first Christmas season in many years that I am not attending school or some kind of training program.  Basically, my time is my own, and is quite free.  In November, I decided to earn some extra cash and took a seasonal retail position with a local department store.  Retail is what I know, and it’s an easy in, during the hectic selling season called Christmas.

I haven’t worked retail for a while.  I’m not used to standing for hours on end, not having a regular schedule to count on, and really not having a life during the whirlwind world of commercial Christmas.

But I’ve bought almost all of my Christmas gifts through my store discount, and because my time is so limited there aren’t a lot of extra’s this year.  Fortunately, my husband’s schedule is lighter now and he has picked up some of the slack.  So our Christmas will be a simple expression of celebration, something I’ve wanted for years to achieve, but somehow always got caught up in the hype.

While none of this is a surprise to me – every time the schedule comes out and I look at the awful hours I shrug my shoulders and say “It’s Christmas” and move on.

What has surprised me is the people I come into contact with on a daily basis.  Not those I work with- they are just people trying to go through their complicated lives just as I am.  Nope, it’s the people who shop.

Human beings.

Fellow sojourners on this earth.

People.

Some are so lovely.  They commiserate with me on having to work till midnight.  They wish me a Merry Christmas.  They are so grateful when I say “Do you want boxes?” or “Do you need a gift receipt?”  We laugh together about the craziness of the season.  It’s a joy to share that moment of life with someone I don’t even know.

Then, there are the others.

Harried People.  People who have a sense of superiority over me and treat me as something lower then my humanity deserves.  Those who act as if I have committed some crime, because I can’t go against store policy, I don’t know how to handle their particular issue, or I have no idea that this item found in the next department has a sale price over the table they got it from.  I know this is not something I alone experience.  All of us in retail have stories like this.

Not only does all of this leave a sour taste in my mouth and, honestly, a strong desire to act in a somewhat passive-aggressive manner in regards to these individuals, but also, an inward searching to identify ways in which I might act like this with others in similar roles in areas of retail that I frequent as a consumer.

Wow.

Very humbling.

There is a spiritual practice of truly looking at the people we daily encounter and see what the Creator intended when He made man out of His image.  Out of this practice comes a new sense of compassion, love, and goodness towards our fellow man.  At the beginning of this practice, it is intentional and difficult, because sometimes personalities get into the way.  But imagine coming to the point where each person we meet is seen as someone precious to God, and is abundantly special in the way that He has created them.

This is one of many lessons I have learned by going back into the world of retail.  A new awareness of people as vessels of the Imagio Dei – the image of God – has been given to me.  These people I encounter are those for whom Jesus Christ saw as precious enough to place His crown aside, and come to earth to become one of us.  His action of love was so intentional; He views each person as valuable and worthy enough for Him to live with us in all our ugliness.  He sees our potential.  He loves us as we are.

Something for me to remember this Christmas, and really, all through the year.

Merry Christmas.  May God bless you richly in the New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christmas, Image of God, Spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hand on Hand

God's hand

Every week I meet with a group of fascinating women.  Each comes from a different perspective and background, but we have something in common.  Each of us desires to grow in our relationship and understanding about God.

Last night we were discussing, with the help of a book called The Good and Beautiful God, how God is trustworthy.  As we talked, one of the women introduced us to a new concept (at least a new concept to me) that is apparently well known to those who work with children or with the disabled/mentally challenged.  It is called Hand on Hand.  It is a term that literally means a hand on top of a hand helping a person, particularly as they learn to write.  Guidance is given lightly by the hand that is placed on the top.  This method teaches the muscles what it feels like to write something.  More generally, it implies the help one gives to another in learning how to navigate or function in the world.

Suddenly a visual came to me: God’s hand over my hand as I try to live this life.

Gently, He guides me.  His soft touch on my hand reassures me of His presence.  I welcome His help and am comforted by His care.

Sometimes I take over and erratically “write” the story of my life.  I forget that His hand is on mine.  I no longer feel His touch.

Instead of peace and joy, I am overcome with worry and fear.  I wonder where He has gone.

Silence brings me back to the awareness that His hand has never left mine.  I remember that He is always with me.  He is always present.

Once again, I am in the security of His hand on my hand.  He is helping, guiding, caring, as my spiritual muscle is learning what it means to live by faith.

Psalm 139:7-10

“Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.”

 

 

 

Posted in Faith, God's presence, Guidance, Trusting God | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Getting a handle on love

cross on tree

Love is a funny thing.

In our world/culture, love means acceptance.  Love is letting you do and believe anything you want to.  Love is kindness to the point of allowing others to hurt you or themselves.  Love is not saying anything that could be taken offensively.

When I look at Jesus, I see an other-worldly love.  He did love differently than anybody I know.

We all know that Jesus is all about love. From the Bible, we see so many examples of His love for the downcast, the outcast, and those who were shunned.   Those whose children or servants were sick or dying.  Some of the people He healed immediately.  Others He didn’t. In the story of Mary and Martha,  He had an extraordinary love for these two wealthy sisters.  They were suffering from worry over their sick brother, who subsequently died of his sickness.   Jesus delayed coming to their brother’s rescue.   Jesus could have come earlier and saved Lazarus, but He didn’t.   In the end, it was for the ultimate love of this family (and us) to understand more about Jesus and His Father than it was to prevent Lazarus from dying.  Lazarus being raised from the dead gave everybody a new understanding about what resurrection meant.

I think Jesus loved the Pharisees and the other religious leaders, too.  They were His enemies.  Jesus said to love your enemies, so He had to have loved them.  I think the Pharisees as a whole wanted to live in such a way that they thought was pleasing to God.  But Jesus wanted more for them.  He wanted them to know the truth, so that they were effective leaders of God’s faith for the people to whom they were ministering.  He challenged their way of thinking.  He showed them where they were going wrong.  He gave them opportunities to learn, but for the most part they were not listening or responding.  Jesus had to let them go.

And Jesus didn’t allow the religious leaders to hurt Him, until it was His time for them to take Him.  He evaded their plans and walked away mysteriously when they came after Him.  But at just the right time, He gave Himself over to them.  Again it was out of love.  Love for us, love for them.  Some of the religious leaders would come to know Him and understand what He told them, but only after His death and resurrection.

It’s hard to have that kind of love these days.  It’s hard to send a wayward child away from home, because of his destructive behaviors.  But isn’t it love to want something better for him?  It’s hard to speak up when something is wrong.  But isn’t it love to give out truth?  Certainly these things can be done in gentleness, kindness, and humility.  But if the goal is love, is it not sometimes difficult?

When I look at the tough things that I struggle with in my life, I am tempted to question the love of Jesus.  Yet as I look back at the examples of Jesus and how He loved, I realize that I am experiencing love.  Not a love I initially desire, but a love that has a goal.  My hope is that my struggles will also result in further understanding about Jesus and His Father.  Perhaps a deeper understanding of the love that Jesus showed.

I know that I want to love like Jesus loved, but sometimes love is a funny thing to get hold of.

Maybe there is more to muse on….

Posted in love, struggles | 2 Comments

Cha Cha Cha Changes

Change follows me like an annoying swarm of gnats. The longest I’ve lived in one house is 13 years. The longest state I’ve lived in is twenty-one years. I’ve actually lived in four states, attended five different schools before graduating from high school, and have dwelled in thirteen different houses or apartments. Really, I’m not whining, it is simply a fact of my life that I am a rolling stone that gathers no moss. I’ve learned a great deal in this life of change. It has made me flexible, forced my shy self to be friendly, and given me an appreciation for the different mores of the regions I’ve lived in. Change has also taught me to leave people behind, and to look for different landscapes when things get tough.

Lately, I’ve been mediating on the idea of contentment. What does it mean to be content? Paul writes in Philippians 4 11b-13:

“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

What is the secret that Paul is talking about? And what does contentment have to do with change?

Sometimes I look at my life, and wonder if I am actually complacent rather than content. When things are going well I’m comfortable, happy, and honestly, maybe a little bored. In those times, I am aware of the goodness of the moment, the freedom of the stress, and the ability to concentrate on other things/people without being distracted. Then a crisis hits, perhaps the threat of change or the status quo. I become off kilter and my focus turns into myself and I go through a period of grief for the loss. I soon realize that for me contentment is a foreign entity.

Yesterday, my spinning instructor challenged us to an endurance cycle. We would keep the same flat road resistance with the same rpm’s for four minutes. He said: The first minute is easy breezy. The second, our quads will begin to complain. At the third minute the demons will come, and by the fourth there will be all out war.

spinning

Oddly enough, this exercise spoke to me about the difference of being complacent and being content. Yes, these are the same circumstances, but the change is in the attitude. Complacency will try and change the circumstances, lower the resistance or slow down. Contentment will forge ahead, maintain the speed, refuse to touch the resistance. Change challenges my contentment. Not only in learning to accept the changes that are out of my control, but also in me trying to manage the change by creating new circumstances within my control.

Perhaps this is a survival mechanism that I have learned, but the question becomes: How does God want me to be content? Maybe the key is in the final statement of Paul’s passage above. Strength is available from God to those who love Him and trust in His goodness.

Yes, it sounds a little oversimplified. But doesn’t being content mean that whatever changes that occur in our lives, there is one thing constant. God. To really believe in His promises to meet our needs. That He will never leave us or forsake us. That nothing will separate us from His love.

These are the things I know in my head, yet I seek to place them deep into my heart.

Change is no stranger to me, but contentment in all things is an elusive reality that I strive to make a friend.

Posted in Contentment, Loving God, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Blunders and Grace

395169_10151482991369710_1441803411_n

The other day I came home from shopping and stopped to pick up my mail.  Inside with the regular advertisements and bills were two handwritten notes.  These notes were written in a childish scrawl and declared love for an unnamed girl.  Amused, I believed these were written for my neighbor’s daughter who is about 8 or 9.  I assumed the infatuated boy must not have known which mailbox to put it in, so I helped him by putting the notes in my neighbor’s box.  As I drove down my driveway to the house, my neighbor was out walking his dog.  So I stopped and informed him of what I had found and what I did with the notes.

Later that evening I received a call from my neighbor’s wife.   She explained to me that her daughter and friend had put the messages in my box as a prank.  She informed me that the daughter would be coming over to apologize.  My heart sank.  I let the mom know that it wasn’t a big deal for me, and that I thought the notes had been for her daughter.  I didn’t need an apology, but mom insisted that her daughter needed to do this.

While I know that mom is doing the right thing and this little girl needs to learn about consequences to poor choices, I also know that this event has the potential of putting a barrier between the neighbor girl and me.   Her behavior, although not really harmful to me, creates an uncomfortable situation for her.

She is a delightful child.  I enjoy observing her from my yard singing her heart out like no one is watching.  In the past, she has approached me open hearted to tell me about her new bike or her dancing lessons.  It saddens me to think that this incident would put an end to her candidness.

How often have my poor choices and the consequences that follow, create a chasm between the relationship between God and me.  It is not God who distances Himself in this situation, but rather it is my perception of God.  I am the one who hides myself from Him, too embarrassed, stressed, or even, perhaps, egotistic to approach Him with my blunder.  Only after my confession to Him do I see the loving response of grace.  The whisper of God saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

I wonder if things would have gone differently if Adam and Eve would have simply gone to God after the encounter with the snake and confessed what they had done.  Rather than knowing their sin and hiding from the One who loved them unconditionally, they could have sought him out.  But understanding human behavior leads me to believe that this would never have happened.  We hide from and avoid the light that exposes our shame. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Confession does us a world of good.  Our relationships are restored, our hearts are free again.  We don’t have to hide, but can enjoy the light.  Confession is so much more for us than I think it is for God.  He sees our hearts and knows our motives.  Sometimes I think He is on the sidelines cheering us on, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)

My hope is that when the neighbor girl comes to me and apologizes, I can reassure her that I think she is a wonderful person and nothing like this will stop me from believing this.  My desire is to extend her grace, like the grace I receive from God.  Her prank was harmless, yet out of this I hope that she learns that it is better to confess, and receive the fresh breath of freedom that comes with grace.

Posted in Freedom, Grace | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment