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  • Writer's picturePhil


There are at least two people in the New Testament

who I feel get a bad press.

One is Judas. I’m certain he followed Jesus in all good faith.

He was an outsider as far as the other disciples were concerned.

Judas Iscariot, as the name implies, was from Kerioth (Judas from Kerioth)

and I suspect that just as Judas didn’t live up

to Jesus’s ideals for a disciple,

nor did Jesus fulfil that for which Judas had hoped.

Was Judas, like many others, hoping that the Messiah would rid the country of those accursed Romans? I wonder……

The other one who seems to get a bad press is one of Jesus’s closest friends………Martha, whom we celebrate today.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I think Mary had a bit of a “thing” about this youngish radical man

that came frequently to their house.

I picture her sitting at Jesus’ feet, looking up at him adoringly,

giving Him her whole-hearted attention.

I think Mary was a bit of a dreamer,

and I don’t doubt that she took very seriously what she heard Jesus say, and was excited by it.

Martha was more level-headed and practical.

She too enjoyed Jesus’s visits, and she wanted to make sure that everything was “just right” for Him when he came to see them.

Martha sounds very Anglican – she busied herself in the kitchen,

probably making a Victoria sponge, and there, active in the background because she wasn’t really comfortable sitting around doing nothing.

Mary’s serene disposition

was a direct contrast to Martha’s busyness.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

This would have been embarrassing and irritating to Martha,

that Jesus rebuked her in front of Mary.

Martha, quite correctly, felt that Mary had left all the work to her.

She would have liked the opportunity to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen intently to what he had to say, but Martha wanted to be the best host she could, and felt it important to treat Jesus as an honoured guest. That meant she had to be busy in the background, whilst that lazy madam of a sister of hers just sat there!

This isn’t just about Mary and Martha;

It’s about us and the choices we make.

Jesus is saying that choices matter.

We are always making choices.

Sometimes we choose unconsciously,

sometimes quickly and easily,

other times with great deliberation and struggle.

Some choices are insignificant. They are forgotten the next day.

Other choices have greater significance

and the consequences are long lasting.

In this particular context Mary made the better choice

but it was a choice for that time, that place, and those circumstances.

Change the setting and Martha’s choice might have been the better part. We can see that in Jesus’ own life.

Sometimes Jesus went off by himself to be alone, silent, still,

to pray, to sit and listen, to be present to his Father.

At those times he was like Mary.

Other times Jesus was active, on the move, in the midst of people,

and busy teaching, healing, feeding 5000.

On those days he was more like Martha.

While we might distinguish between Mary and Martha

there is a common theme, presence.

Mary and Martha are two ways of being present.

Both ways are necessary, faithful, and holy.

There is not simply one choice that is to be made for ever and always.We are always to be discerning the one thing needed

in this time, this place, these circumstances.

What is the better part given our particular situation?

How do we be present, show up,

to the divine presence that is already and always before us?

That’s the question. Some days Mary will be our guide

and other days Martha will be our guide.

Some days that choice may mean sitting quietly

and listening to the heartbeat of God within us,

reading and studying, watching a sunset, or praying for the world.

Other days it will mean offering actions of compassion and hospitality, What is crying-out for attention at home?

What activity could I make time for that would ease the burden of others? What could I do to enhance the quality of life of others?

God our Father,

whose Son enjoyed

the love of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, in learning, argument and hospitality:

may we so rejoice in your love that the world may come to know the depths of your wisdom,

the wonder of your compassion, and your power

to bring life out of death; through the merits of Jesus Christ,

our friend and brother.

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