The psalmist said, “Be still and know I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “Be still”…”and know…” In the Hebrew language, when two coordinate imperatives or imperative verbal forms appear together, as in “Be still” and “know” the emphasis goes to the second command. In other words, what the psalmist is saying could be translated to mean, […]
Luke 10:38-42 New English Translation (NET Bible)
Jesus, Martha, Mary and the Spiritually-Mature Person
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”
For years, I have read this story from Luke as have most all Christians, as well as the church traditions out of which they come, as preferring a contemplative life over any other kind of life. This interpretation works well, especially if you are among the clergy and have chosen to career path of a minister or, better still, the life of a monk.
Over the centuries, this story has been read as a kind of condemnation of Martha who admittedly appears slightly obsessed with her service. The story has also been viewed as a praise of Mary for having chosen “the best part” – namely, to be as a good student in school, contemplative…a good listener, and one who follows instructions.
To Be in Service or to Be in Silence?
But herein lies the problem with this traditional interpretation. It praises Mary while rebuking Martha. It makes Mary’s choice to sit look better than Martha’s choice to serve. While that interpretation has been the Church’s popularly accepted interpretation for centuries, it misses Jesus’ real point altogether.
Whatever else he was saying, Jesus was not setting up an either/or proposition, one choice being better than the other. Had he meant to do this, he would have used the word “better” to draw a distinction between the two choices available in the story, Mary’s choice clearly being the better of the two.
You will notice instead, however, Jesus said Mary had chosen “the best part” meaning, both service and silence are good. But clearly, the best way to live is to serve in silence. That is to say, to be like Martha and serve while being like Mary in silence. Service in silence. A silent service. To live your life publicly while nurturing your soul privately. There are many ways to say this.
But this IS the trick, isn’t it?
The Spiritually-Mature Person is Learning to Serve IN Silence
It’s far easier to serve…to do good…but lose yourself at the same time in serving. We do all the time. We get up and go to work and live for the weekend when we can rest. To learn to rest while working…now that’s a trick! Maintaining your connectedness to Source while the office is coming apart at the seams? Master that, and you have become a spiritually-mature person.
Conversely, it is far easier to withdraw from the world…to enter a monastery, for example, and devote oneself to a rigorous discipline of contemplation, silence, and prayer and never get around to serving either. Just sit all day at the feet of Jesus. Well, it might look spiritual but it isn’t. Feeding yourself spiritually may be better than living a purely materialistic life, as Jesus made clear through one of his own temptations (“Man shall not live by bread alone – Matt. 4:1ff). But God is not interested interested in detached followers any more than I’m interested in decaffeinated coffee.
Mary’s choice and Martha’s choice are both good. The best, however, and certainly where the majority of us are in our lives, is to do balance our service with connectedness to our Source. I have found this is the biggest challenge facing those interested in becoming spiritually-mature persons.
A spiritually-mature person is learning to balance outer service with inner silence…to listen within while doing your duties without.
Don’t think this is tough?
That could only be because you have not tried it.
Make no mistake. The spiritually-mature person is neither spiritual nor mature because he or she can quote from memory endless chapters of the Bible or because he or she goes to church six days a week. Neither does living life like a monk in total seclusion and silence make one more spiritual than a broker on Wall Street.
A spiritually-mature person is the one who practices the art of listening while living…of being while doing…of hearing while hammering…of serving while seeking the Sacred through solitude and silence.
Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, puts it like this:
“Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove (or, undress) ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss good-bye feels like the lips of another being, sold and unrepeatable.”
Wish to become a spiritually-mature person?
Make it your practice to serve outwardly while seeking silence inwardly. This is the secret to YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!