Martha, Martha, Martha + New Meanings of Love

Martha, Martha, Martha + New Meanings of Love August 30, 2019

Yesterday afternoon, the boys and I sat in a circle on the living room floor. They’d been fighting over a Batman LEGO figure, but when a couple of grabs and tears and screams rendered them still unable to come to a resolution, Mama the Referee stepped in to blow her whistle.

Pixabay // Ben_Kerckx

And blow my whistle I did, in a Mary and Martha sort of way – because for whatever reason, a single phrase kept running on repeat in my mind: Martha, Martha, Martha, only one thing matters…

I thought about the story. With the sisters before him, Jesus acknowledged the only thing that mattered in the big scheme of life: to love him.

Oftentimes, when I’ve taught or read or mused over this passage, I’ve imagined it entirely through a one-sided lens – a lens wholly dependent on how much I loved Jesus.

If I could just love Jesus more than anything else in this whole world, then I’d be doing something right. So, I did everything I could to prove my love for God.

I became a preacher lady

I went into ministry.

I became a spiritual writer.

I led worship.

And in most everything I did, I led others in knowing God more deeply, a knowing, I should say, that existed entirely within the premise of accepting God’s love of them.

But a funny thing happened along the way: still thinking I needed to prove to Jesus how much I really, truly loved him, I forgot to let myself be loved by God. “The unspoken subtext in many situations,” writes Ed Cyzewski in Flee, Be Silent, Pray, “was that our commitment would also determine God’s acceptance of us” (60).

For many of us who grew up in the Evangelical church, this “anxious rut of performance, failure and struggle” (48), was just part of the faith. It was part of being a Christian, part of being in the Church, part of the roles we played in the churning wheel of serving a God who sometimes felt the most sacred of programmatic cows.

But as I sat on the floor the other day and kept hearing that one phrase play itself over and over again, I heard something new tacked onto the end:

Only one thing matters …which is to love.

Only one thing matters …which is to be love.

Only one thing matters …which is to let yourself be loved in return.

Suddenly, the Lukan passage wasn’t so singular, nor was God a passive recipient – because it wasn’t merely about what I could do, sitting at the feet of Jesus like a good little Mary would do, but it was about the active being of love.

Perhaps like the sisters Mary and Martha, when it comes to my boys, I can only hope that they love one another. That they emanate love with everything in their being. And, perhaps most of all, that they let themselves be loved by the most ferocious of loves – for maybe this love is the one that changes everything.

I mean, my boys are probably still going to fight over Batman LEGO action figures, but if this wild invitation of love can bowl them over with a new kind of knowing and understanding and hope, well, then, I’m willing to give this new take on an old passage a try.

So, what say you? If you’ve ever read the Mary and Martha passage, what do you hear? Also, I loved Ed Cyzewski’s most recent book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray – check him and his many books out if you haven’t already! 

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