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Jesus calls each of us by name. But when it comes to Martha, the calling has a different purpose.

Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus are recurring names throughout the Gospel accounts. There are several stories of them throughout the Gospels, and we discover that Jesus was close to them.

Do you have a friend you’re comfortable dropping in on? Or someone who’s comfortable enough to do the same to you? That’s Martha and Mary’s house, it’s a place where Jesus likes to go to relax and recharge.

Luke 10 
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.
39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.
40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered. “You are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The story begins with a scene most of us can relate to, inviting people over for dinner. Only we have to understand the setting first to grasp the true meaning.

  1. Inviting a person, let alone a dignitary like a Rabbi, to your home in Middle Eastern culture was a huge social gamble.
  2. Since followers of Rabbis were usually only allowed to be men, this was a very high-stakes occasion, considering a woman issued the invitation.
  3. It highlights the elevated view Jesus had of women.
  4. Whatever the circumstances, Martha’s anxiety and expectations are maxed out.
  5. We’ve all hosted this kind of event where the stakes are high.

In another overturning of the male-dominated traditions of the era, Martha’s sister, Mary, takes the place of a disciple, sitting at Jesus’ feet. But Martha is so overwhelmed by her expectations that she completely misses the point of the gathering – spending time with Jesus.

And that’s how this story is usually presented: stop doing stuff, go sit around with Jesus. Have you ever been called out when you’re trying to do something good? You’re just trying to do the best you can to get things done, and someone calls you out. Maybe it’s not perfect, but you’re trying. It’s demoralizing and frustrating.

Let’s be honest. We don’t really like this story.

We don’t like that we can relate to exactly how Martha felt. Someone needs to get up and get this stuff done. We can’t just sit around all day.

Martha gets an incredibly bad rap. Don’t do stuff, just sit around the feet of Jesus. For those of us who like sitting around, this sounds great. For those of us who don’t, this sounds terrible.

We live in a “get stuff done” culture.

But that’s not what Jesus is getting at. Throughout His teaching and words, Jesus tells people to get up and do things. He’s not anti-activity, he’s getting at something deeper.

For the “doers,” what emotion do you feel most when there’s a bunch of stuff to get done and no one is doing it? Anxiety? Worry? Maybe we don’t call it that, but that’s what it is.

And what does that emotion do when it wells up? It pulls you out of the present moment and takes you somewhere to the future or in the past. But you’re not fully here anymore. 

There’s a word for that. It’s the word we began with. Distraction.      

Sometimes in life, we face opposition. But more often, the thing that undoes us is distraction.

Distracted [dih-strak-tid]: drawn away mentally, not present, over-occupied, pulled in different directions.

Do you feel that? We all feel that.

We see that word in the story too. Martha was distracted by all that had to be done. And it leads to a response that we can all relate to, one that’s riddled with an anxious presence. Look at what she says to Jesus.

  1. “Lord, don’t you care?” – assuming the worst motives of others
  2. “That my sister” – depersonalization/dismissiveness (not Mary)
  3. “Has left me to do all the work by myself?” – awfulizing
  4. “Tell her to help me!” (YOU tell her) – attempts to control passive-aggressively

But Jesus answers by calling her by name, twice.  

Jesus calls us by name at the point of our greatest worry.

Some of us try to convince ourselves that we aren’t anxious. We think we’re successful, high achievers with high capacity, and in control. We aren’t cowering in a corner in the fetal position. But this fixation on doing takes on less obvious forms too. And they’re actually worry.

  • The thing we don’t think anyone else can handle
  • The thing that no one is paying attention to
  • The thing that nothing else is being done about

So, what is the one thing Jesus is talking about? Is it sitting around doing nothing? No, it’s what you make your root, your source. He doesn’t condemn Martha for doing. He speaks her name once her distraction and worry become evident in her responses to life.

When we’re distracted, we have a toe in many things. There’s a piece of us in all of them, but we’re not fully in any of them. So Jesus is saying that you need to have your anchor in one place as you go about all the parts of life – listening (Mary) and doing (Martha.)

We all worry about getting stuff done. And it’s often as if there are fragments of us in 10 different places, with us never being able to give our all in any one of them. Many of us are pull-it-together, power-through kind of people, but in the midst of that, we miss Jesus. We forget we are human until it smacks us in the face.

When Jesus calls us, it isn’t always gentle and soft. Sometimes it has to be loud and in your face.    

Think about how we speak to our kids when they’re in danger and we need their attention.

It’s like a car’s Collision Advanced Technology. Distraction can lead to danger behind the wheel of a car, and we don’t know we’re in danger until the stakes are incredibly high. Collision Advanced Technology is not subtle. The seat vibrates, a light flashes, and there’s a loud beeping sound. If that doesn’t do it, the car actually takes over and hits the brakes for you.

Sometimes the way Jesus calls to us is strong because it’s the only way to get our attention. It’s in a space or with a thing, person, or place that’s really important to us because that’s what it takes for us to realize the stakes are so high.

And the stakes are high for us in ways we might not realize, with your family, your kids, your health, your faith, your calling, your purpose, or even your life. You’ve been dismissing it and putting it off, but the stakes are high.

Maybe Jesus has been trying to call to you to get your attention in a way that you’ve seen as an obstacle, problem, or something to get through, around, or over. It’s not something you’re stopping and listening to.

1 Samuel 3
9 So Eli told Samuel. “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

In the midst of whatever aftermath, confusion, or freefall you might face in life, while having to face, and even mourn, that you can’t live the way you used to any longer, repeat the phrase, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The thing that no one else can handle, that no one else is paying attention to, and that nothing else is being done about…“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

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