Summary: Mary and Martha are different - sermon speaks to open hearts toward both expressions.
Hearts Wide Open: Differences Are Okay
Intro: Australian author Nikki Rowe said, “The greatest asset you could own is an open heart.”
Open hearts compel doctors to give free medical care in the inner city. Open hearts lead Christians live out their baptismal vows and serve Christ in all people. Open hearts cause us to rise early to feed the hungry. Open hearts make the world a better place for the wounded, hurting, and outsiders.
However, when people hurt us, it's natural to shy away and guard our hearts, or worse… close them.
The writer of Luke’s Gospel likes to paint pictures with stories. One of his favorite themes is openness to God and openness to others. Last week Luke gave a story about an open-hearted Samaritan.
In that parable, Jesus taught that a heart wide open drags a dying man out of a metaphorical ditch. Last week we saw a contrast in the religious leaders and the Samaritan. This week there’s another contrast of hearts: Mary and her sister Martha.
There are two characters, and two hearts; one is open… the other is closed.
We don’t know a lot about Mary and Martha except that they lived about two miles from Jerusalem in the small village of Bethany. We know they supported Jesus with their time and treasure. One scholar suggested they were twins. Two people might look the same, but inside they are entirely different.
Martha was what I’d call a southern lady. She knew the importance of a word everyone appreciates; hospitality. Martha reminds me of some of the ladies I grew up admiring. The moment Jesus walked to the door, she greeted him and invited him in. She put candy and homemade cookies on the table and asked him if he wanted tea or coffee. Martha never missed an edition of, Southern Living.
When she heard that Jesus would be at dinner, her hospitality launched into overdrive. She went to the market, cleaned the house, and made bread from scratch. Her recipes were the envy of every church potluck.
However, all wasn’t well in paradise. That evening Martha watched her sister commit the cardinal sin of Judean etiquette. Her sister Mary just sat at the feet of Jesus and never lifted a finger to help her. She had the kitchen all to herself. She tried to keep her temper under control, but preparing dinner for that many people was overwhelming.
When we have more work than time, it’s easy to get testy. She was so mad at her sister that she broke the cultural rules and told a man what to do. Not just any man, mind you, but the most talked-about man in Jerusalem. The soup simmered… and her blood boiled.
She finally broke the silence and said, “Jesus, look, I’m sick of how she’s acting. You need to tell her to get in the kitchen and serve this meal to you.” What she meant was, “You need to fix her and send her back to work.”
We tend to get upset when our hearts are closed. Martha loved her sister, and they both loved Jesus, but she was mad because Mary sat with Jesus while she waited on Jesus.
It’s tempting to pick sides and assume one or the other is “right.” But that misses the point of the metaphor…
Sometimes we’re Mary, and sometimes we’re Martha. We miss the mark when we close our hearts and judge the faith of others by how they choose to express it.
Recently I heard a newly ordained priest confidently say that churches either fall in one of two categories: a social action parish or contemplative parish. They then said, “God is a God of action, and if we’re not protesting this tyrannical government we’re wrong.” I rolled my eyes, and my first thought was Jim Lovell, “…. Houston… we have a problem.”
I think I understand why the priest would say that, but there’s no need to pit the two against one another in some sort of spiritual sparing match. Jesus didn’t scold Martha for working too much. He simply told her to leave Mary alone because her heart was open his message. That is what he meant by “She chose the better part.” At that, Martha's face burned red, and she stormed off back into the kitchen.
I thought about Taylor Swift’s song, “You need to calm down.”
She might have needed to calm down, but we feel her struggle. There’s always something around the church that needs fixing, and 20% do 80% of the work. It’s natural to set up a false contrast. But we need diversity in gifts.
We don’t have to be a social justice church, OR and a contemplative church. That misses the essence of the story. The story is about keeping our focus and our hearts open to Jesus. Mary and Martha are different. Mary accepted the differences between herself and her sister. Martha closed her heart to those differences. The “prophetic priest” I mentioned… their heart was closed!