At the Lord's Feet
November 04, 2007
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 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."
Reading from Swedenborg
When we are being regenerated we are led by means of truth so that we may come to good--that is, may know it, and then will it, and finally do it. (Arcana Coelestia #8754)
Listening is hard.
As a Swedenborgian, I believe intensely that in every moment of every day the Lord is communicating to me through his angels. And it is only sometimes that I notice enough, or rest enough, or remember enough, to sit still and listen to what the Lord is saying.
Mary stops and listens. She sits at the Lord's feet and listens to what he is saying. She allows herself to be taught by his Word.
The story of Mary and Martha is legendary. Mary and Martha have become cultural symbols of being and doing, of attention and action.
While Mary represents, as the Lord says, "the better part," still, when I read this passage I feel more strongly for Martha; I want to defend her even from the Lord! When the Lord says "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things," I want to come to her defense--and really to my own defense--and say, "Certainly there is much work to be done, Lord! There is much to be distracted by!"
We live in a world of action. As Swedenborgians we do not believe that we are called only to have faith, but to live it in the world, to put our love into action--and that in this activity we participate with God in the building of the Holy City.
In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha is the one who invites the Lord in--and this action is good; this action is necessary and faithful. And the work she is doing as she welcomes the Lord into her home--likely preparing a meal for him--is good work.
I want to take Martha's part, I want to defend her, because I can feel and see her good intentions and her faithful work. And more than that, perhaps, I can see my own tendency to feel alone in my busy-ness and in the many tasks I fret and worry about, which I believe to be the work God has set before me to do.
But as I read this passage again and again, I see that the Lord's response to Martha is not a statement against putting our love into action. Martha's activity is not the problem, but only the thoughts she has about her own actions and the actions of others.
Martha invites the Lord into her home and goes about the business of being a hostess to him. Her actions are pure and generous. They are representative of how we each are called to work to receive the Lord; how we are called to prepare a way, and to set a table for the Lord to enter in; how we are called to put our love into action.
But as Martha puts her love into action, she falls into the human trap that we all often fall into: she gets caught up in distractions and worries. She is not able just to be in the flow of her own call and activity, but as she begins to act for the Lord she begins to fret and wonder: "There's so much to do! Will it ever get done?" And her worry and distraction leads her to perhaps the most damaging response: she begins to resent her sister Mary for not also being caught up with the distractions and worries that she is.
There is a balance between being and doing. None of us are just Martha or just Mary; we all exist in the tension between the two. When is it time to act? And when are we so caught up in action that we've lost sight of why we are acting? When is it time once again to listen?
Putting our love into action means keeping first to what we love. When our priorities are aligned, our first love should be for the Lord. Putting our love for the Lord into action is the call, but we can only respond to the call after we have heard it! We enter the stream of Providence by continually listening and responding. When we find ourselves feeling distracted, worried, and resentful of others, it is a clear sign that it is time to stop and listen; that it has been too long since we have sat still at the Lord's feet. And from this sitting and listening, from our attentiveness to the Lord's Word, we will be renewed and inspired to act again without resentment or frustration.
The Lord does not want us to be worried or distracted. The Lord does not want us to be stagnant and unengaged. The Lord wants us to be joyful and of service, and is always giving us what we need to be just that.
May we each take a moment this week to sit at the Lord's feet. May we remember not to compare ourselves to others, or fear that we are alone in our work for the Lord. May we listen for God's Word shaping us into joyful disciples of love. Amen.
Lord Jesus, our lives are filled with many tasks, with many worries and cares. And many of these must, indeed, be attended to. Keep us mindful, though, that we must pay attention not only to the activity of our hands, but also the state of our hearts and minds, from which our actions flow. Help us to observe your Sabbaths not only weekly, but daily, setting aside time to sit and listen at your feet--whether by reading the Scriptures, by prayer and meditation, or by quiet walks in nature. Amen.
Rev. Sage Currie