“The Time is Now”

July 17, 2022

Luke 10:38–42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so, she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Throughout my childhood, I sat in Sunday worship at Bethany Lutheran Church and looked at a stained-glass depiction of this Gospel story of Mary, Martha and Jesus. It was the perfect visual to engage a young mind during the sermon and after my parents had given me the look that said, “Sit there quietly.” Back then I didn’t know why this rich and colorful scene was the focal point of the altar area. Somewhere along the years, I made the connection to these sisters and their home in Bethany, just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem.

Mary and Martha — two sisters together host Jesus in their home while on his way to Jerusalem. The Passover looms, as does his betrayal and crucifixion. Jesus is taking the time for this engagement. It is important to him. This is a warm, loving reunion of friends.

The story is likely familiar to you: Martha busies herself in the kitchen, while Mary sits listening to their guest at his feet. When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister is not helping her, he responds by saying that it is in fact Mary who has chosen the better part.

Now, the usual interpretations of this episode run along the lines of endorsing the spiritual inclinations of Mary over and against the hosting anxieties of her sister. But this fairly obvious reading of the story has always left me dissatisfied. Even while I sat looking at that stained glass window as a child, I recall not being comfortable thinking that one sister was better than the other. I have never liked the spin on this story that pits the two women against each other or that Jesus was chiding Martha. So, might there be something deeper going on here?

Women were disciples of Jesus, though the Gospels never tells us much about them. Luke tells us that Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means (Luke 8: 1–3). Yet, for centuries, women have had to justify their discipleship, their lives of faith as either following Mary or Martha. As if these stereotypes are the only way women can be disciples of Jesus.

As Jesus speaks to Martha, is he scolding or chiding her? This passage is often interpreted with that approach. Does “Martha, Martha” necessarily intimate admonishment? Perhaps Jesus is simply trying to get Martha’s attention so that she can know the Kingdom of God is near — really near. Jesus needs Martha to hear this truth. Time is of the essence. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem. There is not much time left to be in the presence of the Kingdom of God. There is an urgency here that necessitates a reset.

In other words, perhaps Jesus is saying to Martha, the time is now to set aside duty and sit beside me. The time is now to postpone what you have to do and take time for what you want to do. The time is now to revisit items on your “to do” list and re-prioritize.

This does not have to mean one is better than the other. The time is now does not mean either/or when it comes to following Jesus. It does not have to mean comparison and judgment.

This is a helpful reminder, that the time is now to look around and see what difference the Kingdom of God is making in your life and, what changes are needed because of it.

We do not often admit that faith is seasonal. There are times for doing and times for listening. There are times for simply being, too. There are times for learning and times for practicing. No matter how you choose to describe the discipleship expressed by Mary and Martha, both are needed, for varied reasons.

Perhaps here in mid-summer, when we northern clime dwellers revel in the times to be in nature, enjoying the sweetness of the season, this is the time to hear Jesus’ words with your name “(Your name, repeat) you are worried and distracted by many things; maybe there is need of only one thing, or a better portion, another option, at least for now. What might that be?”

What is your “time is now?” What is it that is worrying you, distracting you, or what is it that you have ignored, set aside, that Jesus’ calling your name might get your attention?

This week, could it be the time for such reflection? To imagine the season of your faith and to what you might be called to do or how to be, for these times.

Before you wonder further about this story’s meaning, hear Jesus calling your name, and take it from there.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.