July 18, 2010
I like to consider myself somewhat of a student of human nature. I enjoy observing people and am fascinated by the differences in people. God must really enjoy variety, considering the many different personality types and the many varieties of temperaments. I wonder, for instance, what gives Mike the ability to know everything about a wireless router, down to the serial numbers, when you ask him a question about the internet? What gives Trish her bubbly personality?
It’s likely that you are different in personality and temperament from your spouse. Tanya and I are very different in personality and temperament. Don’t ever get between Tanya and her task; I would prefer for someone to get between me and a task – don’t worry about it. Tanya is the hardest working person I know; she can squeeze ten hours of work into one hour; I can squeeze one hour of work into ten hours (should I admit that?) She moves fast and is pretty intense; I’m pretty laid back and move at a slow and steady pace.
Those differences in people are great, but they can cause problems as well. Think for a moment about how those differences can play out in a church setting. There are some people who are gung-ho about everything and they look very suspiciously at those who want to go a bit slower. Those who prefer careful and measured movements are suspicious about those who like to move fast, and spend their time trying to slow things down. We spiritualize a lot of our differences and our preferences, such as music and worship style – but those are just preferences.
This morning we are studying a passage about two sisters who were very different in personality and temperament – Mary and Martha.
The differences between Mary and Martha really come to light in this passage.
Jesus had been traveling and came to stay in Mary and Martha’s home. While at their home, Martha was busy with preparations, probably a meal and other matters to offer hospitality for her guests, while Mary just sat and listened to Jesus.
There is a difference between duty and devotion.
Have you ever been around a person who prepares for a big occasion but nobody is happy about it because that person makes everyone miserable? They are not taking care of people as much as they are inflicting their care upon people – I’m doing something nice for you and you better appreciate it because I love you! So take it and appreciate it! This is the kind of person who wants to make sure you know they are sacrificing their time to do something and you better appreciate it – I’ve slaved over a hot stove all day and you’re going to sit there and enjoy it and be happy about it because I’m so happy about it! We all know people like this; sometimes we are that type of person.
There is a difference between duty and devotion. Duty tends to be a cold, more lifeless form of service; devotion is a serving that comes out of love and affection and contains a joy, while duty has very little or no joy.
Martha, I think, was serving out of a sense of duty, while Mary was listening out of a sense of devotion. Martha wanted to listen also, but she was pulled away by her sense of duty. Luke says she was distracted, a word that carries a sense of being pulled away from something you would like to embrace, but duty won’t allow it.
Duty carries several dangers. One is a sense of self-pity. Have you ever been in a situation where you become frustrated with others because they won’t get serious about a task? Have you poured yourself into something and others didn’t seem interested so you slip into self-pity? It goes something like this – Nobody cares like I do about this matter, or this ministry. I’m giving my time and working hard and no one else seems to care. Why can’t everyone be as righteous and dedicated as me? I guess I’ll just suffer along by myself and be unhappy about it, and I’ll make sure everyone knows how unhappy and miserable I am – but also how righteous I am – poor, poor, pitiful me.
Have you ever felt that way? Don’t let a sense of duty rob you of the joy that can be a part of life. Devotion serves and works out of a sense of love and joy, and it’s not bound up in a concern about whether or not anyone else is helping. Mary was caught up in the moment of opportunity to sit and be with Jesus and listen to him, while Martha was missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Have you noticed there seems to be an absence of joy in Martha? She comes across agitated, frustrated and angry in this passage. I don’t know if she was always that way, but she comes across so in this passage.
It is very common to see the element of anger in duty. Those who are full of a sense of duty can be overcome by anger, because others do not work as hard as they are working. You know what it is like to work hard, making preparations, and someone is sitting around “doing nothing” rather than helping. We get angry with them because they aren’t helping and we get angry because we have allowed ourselves to get in such a situation.
Martha’s frustration probably led her to make some faces, clear her throat or do other things to signal her displeasure, until finally her frustration boils over and she pours it out onto Jesus. She even gets to the point of asking Jesus if he cares. Here is a woman with a lot of nerve. This is not the only time that Martha demonstrates such nerve. In John 11:27 she confronts Jesus after her brother Lazarus dies and says to Jesus if you had been here my brother would not have died. Everybody else is stepping away saying; I think I’ll avoid the lightning strike that may be coming.
This is not an informational question Martha asks. Martha is not really asking Jesus if he cares; she’s pointing her finger at him and accusing him of not being on her side. Have you ever heard some variation of that complaint? I guess you just don’t care; I guess nobody cares. I’m just trying to do what’s right, and nobody cares or appreciates what I’m trying to do. Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that?
When our service causes us to criticize others or to feel self-pity we are on very shaky ground. Notice how Martha links Jesus care for her to doing what she wants. That is a dangerous and tragic mistake to make. Well, Lord, I didn’t get this in my life; I guess you just don’t care. As one writer said, do we ever accuse God of not caring for us because we have already decided what his care looks like?
Duty will drain our energy, our enthusiasm and our joy while devotion creates a constantly replenished source of joy and excitement and enthusiasm. The Pharisees were a great example of duty rather than devotion. They come across as hard and angry, because they were about carrying out a duty, and they were grim and unloving and unhappy about it.
Do you think any church people approach life in that way? There is a lot of grim duty in churches. Understand that I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a sense of dedication and faithfulness; what I’m talking about is the difference in the source of that dedication and faithfulness. Duty will turn it hard and cold; devotion keeps it joyful and loving.
I have witnessed people who allowed a sense of duty to hurt them; that sense of duty has robbed them of any sense of joy in serving and they become angry and bitter and burned out and they quit and stay mad. That’s so tragic.
There is a time to work, and there is a time to sit and be still.
If you are someone who is more of a sitter, someone who takes a more contemplative approach to life, it’s tempting to use this passage to prove it’s more spiritual to sit around than it is to be working. Likewise, it’s hard for a person who is active to understand the person who sits and contemplates. The person who is concerned with quiet meditation is puzzled by people who run around doing all the time. Some people will read this passage and say well, I agree with Martha; she got a bum rap here. But this is not a passage about whether it is better to be a listener or a doer, and don’t make the mistake of thinking this passage convicts either those who are the sitters or those who are the doers.
Tanya and I were talking about this passage once, and she said the church needs some of both personality types – we need some of the doers and we need some of the sitters. And she’s right. There is a time to work, but there is also a time to sit and be still. It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. If we were always contemplative a lot of important things would be left unfinished; but if we worked all the time there would be no time for prayer and thoughtfulness that lead us to important insights.
There is a sense of superiority in what Martha says to Jesus, and there may have been an air of superiority from Mary, thinking she was being more spiritual. But think for a moment about what was ahead for Jesus. He was not looking for a banquet; he wanted some quiet. Jesus had some difficult days ahead of him and he didn’t need a big banquet with a lot of elaborate preparations. It was not that Martha was working; Jesus says she is bothered and worried about so many things, and at that moment those were the wrong things about which to be concerned. Martha’s big mistake was this – she failed to recognize what Jesus needed at that moment. Under different circumstances her activity may have been what was called for, but not here. Martha was not thinking about what Jesus needed. If she wanted to truly minister to Jesus that’s where she should have started, with what he needed. Instead, she was imposing upon Jesus her idea of what was needed.
There is a time to be busy, but there is also a time to be still, and we need to be able to discern the difference.
Why are we so busy?
Who would like for their lives to be less busy? Let me ask you a question – what is keeping that from happening? Is it really impossible to slow our lives, or are we generating some of our business because we are running from something?
Was Martha busy with her preparations because she wanted to be or was she avoiding what Jesus might have to say to her? It is, after all, harder to hit a moving target. Maybe it was easier for Martha to be busy because it allowed her to avoid a confrontation with Jesus.
I believe there is something in each of us that Jesus wants to confront, because he wants us to be transformed. Maybe Martha was trying to avoid that confrontation. Why are we so busy? Could it be that we are trying to distract ourselves? We run and run, but we do more running than is truly necessary? My question is, from what are we running? Why are we obsessed with being busy? Is it to hide from life and what we don’t want to see about our lives?