A World Of Distractions

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Pieter Aertsen, 1553

Edwina Gateley

Be silent.
Be still.
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.

Let your God—
Love you.

Luke 10:38–42

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

We understand busyness. Contemporary life defaults to fragmentation, and every attempt at multitasking is an exercise in both frustration and futility.  We learn from scripture that this isn’t unique to our present age.  Jesus had three friends in Bethany who were siblings – Mary, Martha and Lazarus (who he raised from the dead.)  During one of his visits, Martha scurried about, attending to every detail while Mary rested at the feet of Jesus.  Martha took great exception to this and asked Jesus to instruct her to “get busy” and help.

In his book, Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs writes:

And what does Jesus do? “Martha, Martha”—did he take her by the arms, I wonder, crossing her path, holding her shoulders, speaking directly into her eyes? “Martha, Martha, stop. Look at me. Let me look at you”—as if to break the spell of the complex, discharging its energy—“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. This really isn’t about all the work and the chores, is it? You are worried, concerned, anxious.” The Greek here suggests that her mind was agitated. “You’re freighted with care, Martha.”

“There is only one thing needed,” Jesus said. When we’re worried and distracted, we’re pulled in ten thousand directions and pulled away from the one thing needed: to dwell lovingly in the presence of God, to sit at Jesus’ feet, to be attentive to him, to God, to the movement of the Spirit within our hearts. Or to put it a different way, this is a life grounded and centered in God. This is what matters most. This is what our souls hunger for. When we are distracted and worried, we get pulled away from the One who holds us and sustains us.

Is busyness a sin? Why or why not?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.




Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/


D I G  D E E P E R

 Martha, Sister of Lazarus and Mary

Peters notes that “[t]he character of Martha as portrayed by Luke and John is remarkably consistent. She is practical, active and outspoken” (Peters, “The Legends,” 150). In Luke 10:38–42, Martha and her sister, Mary, received Jesus and the other disciples into their home. When Martha became frustrated that Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet rather than help her, Jesus told Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:42 NRSV). In John 12:1–8, Martha served during the dinner given in Jesus’ honor six days before the Passover (John 12:1–8). In this account, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet instead of serving with Martha. This may be John’s way of combining the account from Luke 10:38–42 with Luke 12:1–7, in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet during a dinner six days before the Passover (Luke 12:1–7).

John—including Martha as being present when Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus—portrays Martha as an example of faith (John 11:1–44). When Martha runs to meet Jesus, both she and Mary are confident that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death (John 11:20–21, 32). Her acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah is one of the few in the gospel of John (John 11:27). Howard argues that the raising of Lazarus and the sisters’ faith in John point toward Christ’s resurrection (Howard, “The Significance,” 75–77).

Martha is often compared with her sister, Mary. Luke 10:40–42 is often viewed as a comparison between a good, prayerful woman and a bad, restless woman—Martha served men while Mary served God (Schüssler-Fiorenza, “A Feminist Critical,” 26–27; 32). Martha and Mary were also interpreted as examples of the active and contemplative states.

Throughout history, monastic authors often used Martha as an example of the inferiority of active life. However, Jesus only admonishes her for being “anxious and troubled,” not for being active (Luke 10:41). Some monastic communities interpreted this passage to mean that both manual labor and contemplative study are necessary for spiritual development and Christian leadership (Constable, Three Studies; Metteer, “Mary Needs Martha”).

Carter, Warren. “Getting Martha Out of the Kitchen: Luke 10:38–42 Again.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58 (1996): 264–80.
Constable, Giles. Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought: The Interpretation of Mary and Martha, The Ideal of the Imitation of Christ, The Orders of Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Heffner, Blake R. “Meister Eckhart and a Millennium with Mary and Martha.” Lutheran Quarterly 5:2 (Summer 1991): 171–85.
Howard, James M. “The Significance of Minor Characters in the Gospel of John.” Bibliotheca Sacra 163 (Jan—March 2006): 63–78.
Metteer, Charles A. “ ‘Mary Needs Martha’: The Purposes of Manual Labor in Early Egyptian Monasticism.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 43:2 (1999): 163–207.
Peters, Diane E. “The Legends of St. Martha of Bethany and Their Dissemination in the Later Middle Ages.” American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings 48 (1994): 149–64.
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. “A Feminist Critical Interpretation for Liberation: Martha and Mary: Luke 10:38–42.” Religion and Intellectual Life, 3:2 (Winter 1986): 21–36.
Yamaguchi, Satoko. Mary and Martha: Women in the World of Jesus. Maryknoll: N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002.
Michelle J. Morris, “Martha,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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Rick Wilcox

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