As humans we often swing between extremes. Instead of finding the happy medium, we gravitate toward one extreme or the other. Our spiritual lives are often not exempt.
Consider the disciplined life between active and contemplative, between listening and doing, or between study and service. We have a tendency, whether through human nature or just personal preferences, to emphasize one over the other. We focus on the importance of truth to a degree that we spend our time in the academy engaging the mind because the more we know about God the more we love God. Or, we are discouraged by showing up at church and never doing anything so we throw ourselves into service and social justice. God came to make a difference in the world, and we will too. Both of these are important, but which one should be supreme?
Luke wades into the debate by sharing two Jesus stories in Luke 10 that are unique to Luke’s gospel. The first is the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is confronted by a lawyer who asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, “you should keep the law. How do you interpret it?” Jesus is quickly amazed at the lawyer’s wisdom as he replies, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commends his answer and encourages him to live into it. However, wanting to justify himself the lawyer asks, who is my neighbor? Jesus responds with his famous parable, the Good Samaritan. In the story, a man is injured on the road, and then ignored by both a priest and Levite as they pass by on the path. However, a dreaded Samaritan, who is an outcast and unclean, stops to care for the man and love his neighbor. No Jew would consider the Samaritan’s faith to be correct or true, but no one could deny that the Samaritan had shown love. Jesus thus encourages the lawyer to act like the Samaritan. If you want to obtain eternal life, you need to love your neighbors.
Thus, if this was the only story, it seems, at least in Luke’s eyes, that Jesus falls on the side of focusing more on doing faith. Luckily, Luke continues the narrative with a countering story.
Luke follows the story of the Good Samaritan with the story of Martha and her sister Mary welcoming Jesus into their home. As is Luke’s tendency, he often places two stories next to each other in an effort to use the stories to interpret each other. That seems to be his purpose with this story of two faithful women. At first glance we want to read this story and compare and contrast the two women. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to her words. Martha is busy and anxious with much service. Mary is honored, Martha is rebuked.
A closer look at the story argues that it’s not quite so simple. Martha is the host of the story. Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. She has an honored place in the story, and as host, has many responsibilities. Also, her service, while possibly cooking and preparing a meal, is often used by Luke to speak of ministry. It’s the same type of service Paul and Peter give to the church. It’s the same type of service the seven men full of the Holy Spirit in Acts 6 provide the Grecian widows. Martha’s service is not just household chores, she’s involved in ministry. Her role is vital. Jesus often honors those who serve, as Jesus even came in order to serve others. However, at this moment, Martha is anxious about her ministry, and what she needs, at least in Jesus’s opinion, is not someone to help her in ministry, but to take a moment and sit at the feet of Jesus and be filled up. Martha would benefit from listening, contemplation, and study.
To the lawyer, who knows truth but wants to limit how he lives into the truth, Jesus says, go and love your neighbor. Be involved in service.
To Martha, who is distracted by all of her service, Jesus says, come and sit at my feet and be blessed and filled.
Jesus argues for balance. It’s not listening or doing, it’s both. Listening and doing inform each other. As we learn who God is and experience God’s love, we will be conformed into God’s image and propelled into service. As we serve, we will desire to serve in a way that makes a difference, thus we will be drawn back into deeper relationship with the Savior.
Listening and Doing. Active and Contemplative. An effective disciple needs a balanced life.