"Marsha, Marsha, Marsha..." Most of us remember that chant of a name from the television program The Brady Bunch. Poor Marsha was always getting into a pickle and sometimes out of frustration someone would say her name repeatedly and with a certain tone. It seems that when one's name is said in a certain fashion that it carries more meaning or weight, such as when a parent uses a child's first and middle name to call them. That often means that someone is in hot water.
Jesus loved to visit with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They lived at Bethany, only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, but it must have seemed light years away from the noise and confusion of the big city to Jesus. He could simply be their friend and could sit with his feet up and enjoy socializing with people who accepted him for who he was.
The Gospel lesson for next Sunday from Luke 10 has a vignette of a visit from Jesus to the home of his friends. The two sisters were in the house tending to the needs of Jesus and perhaps preparing a meal for him. Lazarus is not mentioned in this story. Perhaps he was gone on a journey or taking care of chores somewhere away from home.
The story says that Martha is busy with the many tasks that needed to be done so that Jesus could be properly entertained. Perhaps she was cleaning or cooking a meal. Her sister, Mary, however was simply sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him talk. The text does not tell the content of the conversation. Maybe he was telling her stories about his ministry or just talking about life in general as two friends often do. Martha noticed that Mary was not helping her in the chores that needed to be done and complained to Jesus about it.
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me."
Jesus, instead of coming to Martha's rescue, gently challenges her thinking. Here comes the repeating of her name as he does it..."Martha, Martha..." We do not know the tone of Jesus' voice but I can imagine that he is weary from his ministry and perhaps there is a slight weariness in the way he addresses her. "...you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of one on thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)
Jesus was trying to tell Martha that she had been busily working around the house making sure that everything was perfect for Jesus as the honored guest she thought he was. She wanted to be sure that all of his needs were met and that everything was to his liking. Jesus, however, wanted only one thing--to rest and sit and talk with his friends. Whatever they ate and whatever the house looked like was not important to him. His relationship with these friends and the opportunity to be with them was much more important than those extraneous factors.
Can't you just sense Martha's despair after hearing these words of Jesus? She had expected him to come to her rescue and command Mary to get into high gear and help with the chores. Instead, he defended what Mary had chosen to do and commended her for sitting with him and talking. Mary was giving her full attention to her friend and also did not care about other factors. She simply wanted to be with her friend whom she loved so much.
The example of the two sisters in this story are a metaphor for life for many of us. We have to have a balanced life, full of activity to take care of the chores of life but also must include times of simply sitting and resting and meditating on what is needed to give us emotional and spiritual strength. There is a reason we have a Sabbath built into our week each seven days. God chose to be busy in the task of creation but then rested the final day to admire what he had created. God commanded the people of Israel to follow the same pattern as they lived their lives. To this day, devout Jews set aside the seventh day of the week as a day of rest and worship and being with family. It is too bad that many Christians have decided that their Sabbath is not needed and instead they can spend it busily doing chores or activities that they can do any other day of the week.
Sunday is the day of rest for Christians because they honor the resurrection of Jesus and follow in the pattern of early Christians who met on the first day of the week instead of the seventh because Jesus rose from the day early on Sunday morning. Sunday just has a different feel about it. It is as if nature and even society are inviting all to pause and rest and worship on this day. People need rest, and reflection and community...all these are found in gathering with others on the day of worship set aside by Christians.
Many in society today say they do not need to go to church in order to be Christians. Even members of churches neglect to go to church because they do not feel the need to be with other Christians regularly on the day of worship. Perhaps Jesus would say their name gently, wearily, admonishing them with love, the way he always does, guiding them into reconsidering so that they can be refreshed, renewed, and encouraged in spirit by being part of something much larger than themselves that they cannot find anywhere else in the world around them.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)