Intellectual Marthahood

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and concerned with many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41)

In my previous post, I touched briefly on this Bible passage contrasting Martha and Mary. Typically, it’s used to say “don’t be so busy-busy; sit at the feet of Jesus and learn”. An important lesson, certainly.

However, it occurred to me that as I had (and I believe correctly) applied it in a way running almost diametrically opposite the usual teaching application, it might be worth focusing in on it some more.

Welcome, then, to the world of intellectual Marthahood.

Typically, when this passage is preached on, I can find myself getting smug. I look more like a typical “Mary”. I don’t like busy. I’m not so fond of exerting myself in service. I like sitting down at the feet of Jesus; it’s relaxing. I like learning; it stretches my mind. And I get to look spiritual by doing so? Bonus…

I’m missing the point, aren’t I?

My own distractions and concerns, you see, aren’t the busyness of life and the tasks I have to do. I don’t typically drive myself to a place of overwork. I’ll put in the effort required, but I’d much rather work smart than work hard. As I sometimes characterise it, it’s applied laziness. Taking the time and effort to do it right the first time so that I won’t have to come back and do it again.

My “many things”, my distractions and concerns that tear me away from what is truly important, are ideas. Concepts. Learning. I’m good at digging out new truths. I’m far less adept at applying the ones I already know. I tend to overcomplicate. I can get esoteric and at times even downright arcane.

As I said, I like sitting at the feet of Jesus. But I’m far less ready to join Him in doing. Washing the feet of the Disciples. Feeding the hungry. Serving the least. Being a doer of the Word, not just a hearer.

Jesus makes an important point in commending Mary for sitting at His feet and learning. Culturally, men sat and learned; women busied themselves in serving. By commending Mary, Jesus opens the door to women for full participation in spiritual life on equal terms with the men.

But the point is not that we should all seek to learn rather than serve. The point is that we not let our many concerns distract us from what Jesus wants.

Jesus said that He only did what He saw the Father doing. There are times when that means sitting down and learning, feeding our minds and souls. But equally, there are times when it means getting up and serving, feeding someone else either physically or spiritually.

Because the Gospel is not just about us. There’s a world out there that needs to be restored. Jesus didn’t rescue us from the dominion of darkness so we could sit on our backsides looking spiritual. Those we typically call “Marthas” usually understand that far better than I.

Marthahood isn’t about task-orientation. It’s not about busyness. It’s about letting peripheral things (the task and the busyness, in her case) distract from what’s truly important. In my case, in the ivory-tower world of intellectual Marthahood, it’s about letting all my fancy ideas and deep insights dstract me from doing the works of Christ.


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