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: 38-41, NIV)
Our Quaker meetings can roughly be divided into Marthas and Marys: into those who are mainly concerned with service and those who give first place to worship and contemplation. It’s tempting to take the side of Mary and be critical of Martha; but, of course, we also have these words in James 2:14-17 (NIV):
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have
faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother
or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them,
“Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs,
what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
So, James—and Jesus, too, for that matter—want faith and deeds, worship and action to be united in the same person. But it’s surely true that God calls people to different roles in life. Some are given the gift of spiritual knowing while others receive the gift of spiritual doing. Although James would disagree with me, it’s enough that these two types of people complement each other within the group, within a Quaker meeting.
So, there’s a Friend I know in Britain, American by birth, who’s not at all a social activist; but she doesn’t feel guilty about “doing nothing” because various of her meeting’s activist members come to her for personal encouragement and spiritual refreshment. Her presence allows these Friends to continue their activist ministry without faltering or burning out. And, of course, the doers within our meetings encourage those of us who are less active to get involved in the struggle for justice. Without actions, the Kingdom of God will remain a dream of faith and never become an earthly reality.
We have to have the Marthas. We have to have the Marys. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 (NIV), “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
~ Richard Russell
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