Am I a Martha or a Mary?

Rachel Chimits

When we’re trying to live well as Christians, are we busy listening to Christ or making a list of ways that other believers are failing to do as well as us?

Fox News reported, “Trump took the first swipe Thursday, telling Fox News correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera that Biden, a practicing Roman Catholic, and the Democrats are ‘against the Bible’ and claiming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is ‘against God.’

“The Biden campaign hit Trump in response for his photo in front of St. John's Church amid police brutality protests and as the Republican president seeks to shore up his evangelical base.

“’Joe Biden's faith is at the core of who he is; he's lived it with dignity his entire life, and it's been a source of strength and comfort in times of extreme hardship,’ Biden spokesperson Andrew Bates told Fox News.

“’Donald Trump is the only president in our history to have tear-gassed peaceful Americans and thrown a priest out of her church just so he could profane it — and a Bible — for his own cynical optics as he sought to tear our nation apart at a moment of crisis and pain. And this comes just one day after Trump's campaign abused a photo of Joe Biden praying in church to demean him, in one of the starkest expressions of weakness throughout this whole campaign.’”

The whole argument is not unlike watching two children throw dirt at each other on the preschool playground.

The common narrative is “You must do certain things to be a good Christian,” probably because of verses like James 3:9-12 and Matthew 7:15-20 that instruct Christians to behave like they’re actually following God. However, the list of ‘things’ that follow are sometimes a bit…well, strange and difficult to find in the Bible.

Where did Jesus say I had to vote for a particular political party in order to enter the kingdom of heaven? Maybe it’s in Isaiah somewhere.  

That Time Jesus Chose Sides

The laundry list of actions one must or must not follow in order to be a good Christian was getting started while Christ was still alive. 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

“’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10: 38-42, NIV).

Martha is being the good housekeeper and host, but then she notices her sister slacking off to talk to Jesus. Cue the entrance of Septa Unella, ringing her hand-bell, “Shame! Shame!” Martha would also like Jesus to join her in telling her lazy sister off. How often do we pull God into our complaints?

If something really irks us, it definitely bothers God because he’s on our side. Is that person in the office next to you particularly loud with a nasally voice that’s just like nails on a chalkboard? They’re definitely ignoring the Holy Spirit telling them to pipe down while you’re working on a spreadsheet. Who did that woman think she was, commenting on your child’s tantrum in the checkout line? God’s fine with you grumbling about rude people who think it’s their civic duty to point out poor parenting.

That neighbor has a sign for which political candidate? God better start working on their soul. Our friends go to the church lead by that pastor? They need someone to sit them down, give them a talk and bring down the Holy Spirit fire.

We pull a Martha, but do we ever think about how Christ refused to side with Martha?

The esteemed Matthew Henry wrote in his commentaries, “This complaint of Martha’s may be considered as a discovery of her worldliness: it was the language of her inordinate care and cumber…. [T]hose that are eager upon the world themselves are apt to blame and censure those that are not so too; and while they justify themselves in their worldliness, and judge of others by their serviceableness to them in their worldly pursuits, they are ready to condemn those that addict themselves to the exercises of religion, as if they neglected the main chance, as they call it….

“Note, Those are not always in the right that are most forward to appeal to God; we must therefore take heed, lest at any time we expect that Christ should espouse our unjust and groundless quarrels. The cares which he cast upon us we may cheerfully cast upon him, but not those which we foolishly draw upon ourselves.

“He will be the patron of the poor and injured, but not of the turbulent and injurious.”

How Then Shall We Live?

For the areas of life where the Bible does not give explicit instructions, we may all have differing opinions on what good, Christian living looks like.

Awkward questions come up, such as What type of music is appropriate in a church service? How many physical possessions is it okay for a believer to own? Should a married couple use birth control or not? The Bible doesn’t dictate exact instructions and parameters for these kinds of dilemmas.

In these cases, how do we know if we’re in the right or not? How do we approach other believers who clearly have a different interpretation of how to deal with a social or personal issues?

Gary Wilkerson points to Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church with its instructions for how believers are to live with one another. “’Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:12-14, 19). 

Examining this passage, Gary notes, “Paul addresses the personal transformation that comes by the power of the cross of Jesus Christ, but he also talks about bringing peace and restoration to broken interpersonal relationships.

“Where you once related to others with hostility, fear, separation and anxiety, you are now able to walk in reconciliation, peace and love…. The Word of God addresses it this way: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). In other words, God will give you grace to forgive and extend mercy to others…”

If we really feel strongly about an issue, we need to ask God to give us grace and be ready to listen if he stops us in our tracks and says, “There’s a better way. There are better things to value here.” Unlike Martha, we can and should approach others graciously and peaceably, especially when we disagree.