Stop, Look, Listen - to Your Heart: how often do we really do that? This is at the centre of spiritual practice and Christian life. This is why our parish mission statement begins with the words ‘focused in Christ’. And this is really the point Jesus is making when he says: ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;2tthere is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Note well: there is no need for us to attempt to make an unnecessary distinction or choice between Mary and Martha. We do not have to choose between these women, or between contemplation and action which they are sometimes alleged to represent. We do not have to choose between them any more than we have to choose between grace and works in faith. They go together!
What however is the attitude to Jesus which has priority? This is the real question. We do nott have to choose between Mary and Martha but we do have to choose to put God in Jesus first. This the the ‘one thing’, ‘the better part’, to which Jesus is referring in Mary’s attitude. Ultimately Martha’s concern for working and serving can wait. As Mary has put God in Jesus first it will not be taken away from her. Indeed, in stopping, looking and listening to Jesus, her work and serving will be all the better afterwards.
Do we see, and hear? This is not about devaluing work and service. It si about whether we are focused in God or not. Mary stopped, looked and listened. Martha, in contrast, we are told, ‘was distracted by her many tasks’. She was not properly focused. I suspect, as with the elder brother who keeps on working in the story of the Prodigal Son, that Martha was not focused partly as she was bearing some resentment. This she was allowing to get between her and stopping, looking and listening to Jesus: that is, her attitude was preventing her growing in relationship with God. Do we ever do the same, do you think? Do we allow resentment of others to come between us and our relationship with God? Perhaps we also allow false or unnecessary expectations to build up which distracts us from giving time and relationship to God? For it is striking that Mary was most certainly not acting out the typical riole for a woman in her culture. Sitting at a teacher’s feet – stopping, looking and listening – was not usually the palce for a woman. So Martha may have been voicing her awareness of this, and perhaps her own discontent of feeling she had to play the stereotypical female role. Jesus will ahve none of it. As elsewhere in the Gospels, what matters to God in Jesus is not whether we are male or female, or anything else. Nor does it really matter to God whether we conform to cultural expectations or not. What matters is whether we have time to stop, to look, and to listen to God. For whilst this story works well with the two women, Mary and Martha, it is also about men too. Indeed, in recent Christian history, it has often been men who have been the ones who have not always felt so comfortable about the ‘one thing (ultimately) necessary’: stopping, looking and listening to God in Jesus.
So how will we respond to today’s Gospel reading? Will we hold on to our activities, and our resentments, or will we stop, look and listen to God with our heart? Mary and Martha are not to be falsely separated . Action and contemplation are both required. Yet, ultimately are we not human be-ings before we human do-ings? These tare intimately linked. Yet whilst be-ing includes do-ing, do-ing tends not to have time for be-ing, and can often be a way of running away from our true be-ing. Becoming a human be-ing requires stopping, looking and listening with our heart. When we do this our human do-ings become that much more fruitful and less distracted.
So will we stop, look and listen to God in Jesus more fully? That is what it means to belong to the Jesus Club. It not only helps us avoid being knocked down by busy traffic on the highways of life. It also helps us flourish and find our true selves and happiness. In the name of Jesus, who calls us to stop, to look, and to listen to the heart of God, Amen.
(by Jon Inkpin for Pentecost 9 Year C, Sunday 17 July)
Let me conclude with a version of Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart by Marvin Gaye and Diane Ross…