It happens at our house. End of the workday, sometimes well into the evening, as Susan and I both have times where our work involves evenings. The “how was your day” question is asked, or implied, and one or the other of us (sometimes both, at times) is still preoccupied with something else, or gets distracted by something else, and ends up not listening. With email, and text messages, and Facebook posts, and baseball games on TV, with thinking about what happened during the day—either continuing to think about it or being suddenly reminded about it—so much distracts from fully listening. And then sometimes we realize that we haven’t listened—or the other one of us realizes that what was said wasn’t listened to. Most often we realize what has happened, and are gentle with each other, as we recognize that so much is going on, and that there is so much to think about. But sometimes it can feel uncaring—I mean, you asked me about my day and then didn’t listen when I told you!
And sometimes the life tasks get in the way too. Laundry has to be attended to. Dishes in the sink. Mail to go through. Schedules to clarify, and then coordinate. Phone calls to family to make. Trash to compile and put out. Clothing to assemble to put out for the Vietnam Vets to pick up. Coordination of a trip to the bank, or the dry cleaner, or the township offices to pay the school taxes. I suspect that most of our lives get like that, probably all too often.
Sometimes just the accumulated “stuff” means that we don’t automatically fall into the time to listen to each other. Much less listen to God.
In this story of the two sisters, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him while Martha is doing various tasks. At no point does Jesus say that the tasks should not be done. Jesus doesn’t criticize Martha for her efforts, or her hospitality, or her conscientiousness. What he says, in the New Revised Standard Version translation, is “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” (Luke 10:41). The worry and distraction is the issue.
We will never have lives without “stuff to do”. Keeping that “stuff” in perspective, and making certain we take the time to listen to Jesus—this is how we are better able to keep the stuff from causing undue worry and distraction.
A chorus we will sing on Sunday goes like this: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”. Perspective, and clarity of priorities—that’s what Jesus offers us. We get that perspective and clarify our priorities by listening to him.
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’