The problem with black and white thinking is that we can sometimes become so fixed to our position that we ignore or never even notice the circumstances, the context surrounding it.
Sometimes something is not completely black. And it’s not really all white. Sometimes our view can be colored by the ambient light, by the circumstances, the context.
For example, let’s say I had out in the other room a big sack filled with gold coins. And let’s say I dragged it out here and asked if one of you would like to take it and keep it. I suspect that many of you would volunteer for this… would be quite happy to receive a gigantic sack filled with gold coins. Now let’s say that you were sitting in a small canoe out in the middle of huge lake and water was leaking into it. You might think twice about being handed a big sack filled with gold coins.
Or let’s say you were in a hurry, busy, rushing toward an important commitment. You would be commended for proceeding with purpose, for not being distracted, for not delaying. But what if there was a badly beaten person lying on the side of the road and you had to choose whether to help or not? That of course was the story last Sunday, of the Good Samaritan. You see, the circumstances… the context… matters.
This week, we meet two sisters who are hosting a visit from their friend, Jesus. One is busy taking care of business, doing the work of hospitality, getting the food ready. This is a good thing typically. But it is not her, Martha, who is commended. Rather, it is Mary who has found a quiet spot by Jesus’ side and who is listening intently at his words, and who is described by Him as having chosen the better part.
We have come to associate action and purpose with Martha. Passivity, pensiveness with Mary. Sometimes one or the other is described in a more favorable light, but I’d like to reject such black and white classifications. There’s a bit of Mary and Martha in all of us.
For example, we cite the importance of action to our faith, of getting our hands dirty, of putting our money where our mouths are. We also describe the need to be prayerful, of listening, of having quiet moments within which to listen to the sometimes soft whisper of our creator God. In reality, both are quite important.
I think the point today is one of priority. Of understanding that action without relationship first can be empty. And that there is a proper sequencing that comes from having that personal relationship with Christ and then building up off of that into deeds.
In our prayer lives, we can sometimes feel the impulse to pray and then check it off our to do list. To consider it to be just another task, like making dinner or walking the dog. Or, we can fill our prayers up with requests, and we do all the talking, and then don’t stop to pause, to listen.
There’s Mary and Martha both in what we need to do in order to follow Christ. But let’s begin with the relationship. Let’s stop to make sure we’ve built it up upon a footing of stone and not sand. Let’s get to know Christ, on a personal level. We do this by pausing and by listening. As Mary did.