This Sunday’s story about Mary and Martha has sometimes been interpreted as the acceptable range of discipleship for women – either Martha - servant hospitality or Mary -contemplation. But we are far beyond identifying or limiting discipleship roles by gender. Likewise, we are beyond hierarchical, or competitive concepts of discipleship. While Jesus says Mary has chosen the better part, we don’t need to thumb our noses at servant hospitality.
The better part, of course, is spending time with Jesus, especially when he is available. For example, when we are gathered for worship, prioritize spending time together as the body of Christ over duties of hospitality or pre-occupying concerns of your daily life. Focusing on corporate worship and daily prayer during the time set aside for them doesn’t imply other duties and concerns are less important. Just that they are less important at that time. Taking time to be at peace with God and one another, liberated from chores and worries for a time, are for the sake of helping us become more effective servants.
In that vein, this lesson reminds me of Eric Law’s Kaleidoscope Institute “RESPECT Guidelines”. Here they are.
R – Take Responsibility for what you say and feel. Use “I” statements. Avoid speaking for or about others.
E –Use Empathetic listening. Put yourself in other’s shoes. And prioritize the goal of mutual understanding over the goal of convincing someone to adopt your opinion or POV.
S –Be Sensitive to differences in style and communication. Some people tell stories. Some people get right to the point. Some people spiral around a topic. Some people communicate through silence. Don’t confuse style with substance.
P – Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak. Don’t prepare your rebuttal while someone is speaking. Listen to them and take time to think before you react.
E – Examine your own assumptions, perceptions, biases. You might discover the log in your own eye. We all have them.
C – Keep Confidentiality. (See R – take Responsibility. Don’t speak for or about others, especially when they aren’t there.) Confidentiality is different than secret-keeping. Share constructively, without personal attribution, to uphold the well-being of the community.
T –Trust ambiguity. Determine winners and losers isn’t the most important thing in most communication. Trust the value of different opinions and POV’s in revealing a more complete picture of what is true.
Applying these guidelines to Martha and Mary, we might imagine Martha saying to Jesus and Mary and the other disciples: “I want to have some time with Jesus, too. But I also feel responsible for making sure everyone is served. Is there a way you could help me rethink my assumptions about hospitality so that everyone gets refreshments and I can get equal time with Jesus?” If she had, I feel certain Jesus would have helped the community of disciples come up with a wonderful, creative solution.
These guidelines also have tremendous value in our current, daily public and personal communications. I’ll let you contemplate how. But as important as it is to think about them, don’t just contemplate. Get into your Martha shoes and put them to hospitable service. They can be used in every office, home, church, and school.