Saturday, 10 January 2015

Martha and the Older Brother - When Good is the Enemy of Great

As Scott was speaking beautifully last week at church about Mary and Martha, and how, in the busyness of life, we must find time to sit at the Master's feet, I found myself thinking that Martha sounds a lot like the older brother from the parable of the prodigal son.

It says of her in Luke 10:
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!”
Here's what it says of the older brother in Luke 15:
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
Both were so focused on "the tasks" that they missed the greater thing that was going on. In one case, the return of a lost loved one, in the other, the Lord of the Universe was here to enjoy their company.

And interestingly, both of the names "Mary" and "Martha" mean "rebellious." If Western Christian tradition is right, Mary had been a prostitute and Martha had been the diligent one. But if we are to consider Martha as rebellious, then what is her crime? That she allowed good to become the enemy of great. The Master was here, and she was more interested in the table decorations.

There is a parallel in the parable of the Prodigal, the younger son squanders his inheritance with prostitutes, whilst the older son never leaves his father's house for the sake of his duty. When the younger son returns to joy and feasting, the resentment of the older son towards the Father is palpable - he was more interested in his tasks and/or building up his inheritance.

Both wanted affirmation for their tasks and their service more than they wanted to share in the joy of their Father / Master.

In both cases the ending is left open. Did Martha leave her identity-affirming tasks behind and go in to sit with the others or did she run back to them flustered, upset and feeling misunderstood? Did the older son stay out in the field or did he come in and join the party?

If anyone is guilty of putting tasks for Jesus above time with Jesus, and wanting be affirmed in them, I am. I make good the enemy of great.

The ending is still open. How will it be written?


Francis Bottrall said...

I am aware that this a very personal and thoughtful reflection. Thank you, Richard. I see parallels with my own walk with the LORD, and I acknowledge that humility for me is easy unless I feel I need to speak out.

So here I go:

If good is an enemy of great, than I am guilty of that. I do however believe that we can all do a little good for the greater good. I am happiest when there is unity and Psalm 133 is confirmation for me that everybody is valuable, whether Mary or Martha; rich or poor; slave or free.

Freedom for me is having the choice to be able to live with me.

Richard Walker said...

Thanks for stopping by, Francis.

Am with you there. :-)