Immediately on the heels of the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany and spend the afternoon with their friends Martha and Mary. Like the story of the Good Samaritan, this short passage from Luke 10 has taken on a life of its own even in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture. While Martha works busily in the kitchen, preparing a meal for her house guests as was required by the hospitality code of the time, Mary is reclining at the feet of Jesus. I’ll get to the Mary’s choosing the better part later this week, but today, maybe because I associate so strongly with her, I was struck by Martha’s distractions.
Luke uses three different Greek words to describe Martha’s plight. The narrator tells us that Martha is “perispao” distracted or worried by her “diakonia” her servant or table ministry. Jesus, responding to her lament against her sister’s apparent laziness, says she is “merimnao” anxious or worried and “thorubazo” troubled and bothered by “polus” many things. What is most interesting to me is that this final verb, “thorubazo,” is a hapax legomenon. It is used only once in Scripture. Martha seems to be experiencing an unprecedented level of distraction.
Though “thorubazo” is a hapax, it it comes from the root word that means riot or uproar. Within her soul, there is no rest, only anxiety, struggle, and even violence, and Jesus knows that this is no way to live ones life. His admonition to Martha isn’t so much Jesus setting up the prayerful asceticism of Mary over the diaconal ministry of Martha, but rather, a reminder to all of us that distraction is destructive. When we allow ourselves to become so busy and so worried that our minds become fractured, bifurcated at best, by the many tasks that lie before us, the kingdom of God can easily get lost in the shuffle. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is single minded on the task ahead, and he invites Martha to join him. She need not stop preparing the meal, for that is an important part of her ministry, but her mind should be solely focused on her work to the glory of God.
As one who is often distracted and worried, I can understand Martha’s situation. I often think that I’ve found unprecedented levels of distraction, an in those moments, I know that my usefulness in the kingdom is next to zero. Would that I could be fully present and single minded to do one task at a time to the glory of God.