Go and do likewise. Sit and listen. Last week, in direct response to a lawyer’s question about what he must do to inherit eternal life, we heard the story of the Good Samaritan. A story in which Jesus taught the lawyer that love of neighbor involved showing mercy to all. The Jesus told the lawyer to: “Go and do likewise.” Love in action was lifted up in Jesus’ message last week. Now this week Martha is chided for action – for spending too much time in the kitchen attending to duties rather than sitting at the feet of Jesus like her sister Mary listening to Jesus’ words. So which is it? Does Jesus want us to “Go and do likewise” or “Sit and listen?”
Early in the candidacy process for seminary education – prior to her formal acceptance - Anna attended a candidacy retreat. This retreat was centered on prayer and reflection. As part of the retreat, attendees would have the opportunity to walk a prayer labyrinth. Anna had never participated in something like that before. Anna set time aside each day for a daily devotion, but she was by nature a doer and spending the amount of time it would take to walk the labyrinth in silence seemed like a burden, not a gift. But since the labyrinth was a big part of the retreat, Anna listened to the instructions for walking the labyrinth, took her shoes off and prepared to enter the circular path.
The instructor had said to that she should spend the time walking toward the center letting go of worldly concerns that would get in the way of your experience. Once in the middle she was to spend time either standing or sitting quietly listening to God. The instructor had indicated that some chose to come to this space with a question and Anna had a big one. She wanted to know if God was truly calling her to ordained ministry or was this some big mistake – a misunderstanding of God’s message.
As Anna approached the middle of the labyrinth, she decided to sit down and pose her question to God. Almost immediately Anna began to think of the words Jesus said to Peter in the Gospel of John after asking him “Do you love me?” Over and over in her head she heard the words “Feed My Sheep.” Anna, the doer, hearing those words thought to herself okay, that’s all I needed to hear and then proceeded to begin to get up and walk the path to exit the labyrinth and get to the task at hand: feeding the sheep. No sooner did she begin to rise, than in her mind the thought became clear: “Stay here and listen. You can’t feed my sheep if you are not fed yourself.”
Anna was reminded in the center of the prayer labyrinth that day that both doing and listening are important parts of the Christian walk. When Jesus says that “Mary has chosen the better part,” he isn’t advocating that people spend all their time in worship, prayer, devotion and study of the scriptures ignoring the care of others around them. Jesus is highlighting what Anna heard as she listened for the “still, small voice of God” in the center of the labyrinth that day – those who serve, must be fed by God’s word before they can effectively help others. Sitting at the feet of Jesus through worship, word and sacrament are critical to our ability to carry out the work that God would have us do in the world.
I would venture to guess, that amongst us gathered in the room here this morning we have both those who relate more to Mary and those who relate more to Martha. As I read the gospel text, those who relate to Martha were probably thinking something like the words of a 19th century sonnet, Martha and Magdalene by Giuseppe Belli. The sonnet ends with Martha snapping back at Jesus when he tells her that Mary’s choice is the better part saying: “
So says you, but I know better. Listen, if I sat around on my salvation the way she does, who’d keep this house together?”
On the other hand, those who resonate more with Mary were probably thinking:
Preach it Jesus! The Marthas are always so busy doing things they never take time to slow down and hear God’s word – to pray and take time for a relationship with their God.
We have those who long to “sit at the feet of Jesus” and find this their “go to” role in their Christian walk and those who long to “go and do likewise” and find this as the part of the Christian journey with which they are most comfortable. Those who long to “sit at the feet of Jesus” might find serving others to be less life-giving to them than a day of meditation, a weekend retreat spent in silence or a walk on a prayer labyrinth. On the other hand, those who are by nature doers – who find life in doing and serving - might struggle just to slow their mind down long enough to shut off the list of things that need to be done so they can even make space to hear the “still, small voice of God.”
It’s a challenge for both the Marys and Marthas in our midst. Each must seek to find a balance – the place where they find time both to “Sit and listen” and to “Go and do likewise.” We must stretch ourselves outside our comfort zones if we are to live the fulfilled life that God offers to each one of us otherwise the Marthas – the doers – will miss out on the peace that comes in the midst of time spent being fed by God’s word, and the Marys will miss out on the joy and sense of purpose that comes when you give of yourself to love your neighbor.
So Marys in our midst, I encourage you to put feet to those things you have learned as you study and pray – to “Go and do likewise” by loving your neighbors in whatever ways you are able. And Marthas, I encourage you to “Sit and listen.” To slow down the hectic pace of doing long enough to spend some time “sitting at the feet of Jesus” whether that be in prayer, meditation, Bible study or walking a prayer labyrinth. In finding a balance between doing and being, both the Marthas and Marys in our midst will experience a more rewarding, fulfilling journey of faith. Amen.