Category Archives: BODY of Christ
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
You wanna be like Mary, but in reality, you’re like Martha. Believe me, lovely reader, I know how you feel. I’ve been there, and I’m back there again.
So if you’re a Martha and wanna be like Mary, what do you DO about it?
Here’s a little exercise to try this weekend:
- Recognize your gifts, passions, and personality. Understand and accept who you are. God made you that way for a reason. God likes you like this!
- Recognize how you are feeling. Are you worried and upset? Are you critical and judgmental? Are you jealous of people who seem to have an easier time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
- Identify what is motivating you right now. Are you distracted by the preparations? Are you busy with things that seem necessary but really are not needed?
- Take it to God. Mary and Martha both went straight to Jesus. They just had different catalysts for their encounters with God. Maybe being stressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of your day can be used to turn your attention to the one thing that is truly needed.
- Allow God to redirect your focus. Where should your time and attention be right now? What is truly needed?
Maybe sitting at Jesus’ feet isn’t your natural state of being. Maybe it takes work. It was work for Brother Lawrence, St. Ignatius, and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, too. That’s why they devoted so much time and effort toward cultivating their focus toward God.
If you’re task-oriented, make time with Jesus one of your “tasks” for the day. Maybe it’s your only task for one whole day, the only and best accomplishment. If you like lists, put time with Jesus on there along with runs to the grocery store and calls to clients.
And if you’re not like this at all, if you’re naturally a Mary, well then…
YOU ROCK! We all wish we could be more like you. Don’t let ANYONE take away what you have chosen. God promised you could stay right where you are at the feet of Jesus, and God will defend you! You just keep on sitting.
For the rest of us, put sitting on your list. And then DO it.
And then come back and share your experience in the comment box below.
So let’s say you’re like me. You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.” You are a DOer.
You are like Martha.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Notice how Martha responds to the situation. She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations. She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.
Martha goes straight to Jesus. She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.
Notice how Jesus responds to Martha. He does not condemn her. He does not criticize her work. He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for. Here’s what he DOES say:
- You are worried.
- You are upset.
- Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED). In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced. In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
- Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.
Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.
This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.” Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.
Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.
Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.
You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.
If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.
You will always be the achiever. You will always be responsible.
What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us. We focus on the wrong things. We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.
If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary. You want to be a BEer. You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.
You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are. In reality, you are more like Martha.
You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day. You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.
That’s okay. God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability. God loves that about you!
So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?
Find out tomorrow!
If you’re like me, you have a complex.
You have a desire, nay, a driving need, to DO, to DO WELL, and to HAVE DONE more, concurrently, and better than everyone else you know.
You excel at doing, and you draw your self-worth from how much you have done and how well you have done it.
You are a task-completer, a list-checker-off-er. Your number one strength on the StrengthsFinder test is Achiever. (PS. This actually means you have a bigger complex than I do because Achiever is only number three on my StrengthsFinder results. Nany nany boo boo.)
You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment. – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p37)
Okay, maybe not all of you are Achievers, but a lot of you are. A lot of Christians are, especially Christian women. We’re taught early and often that we live to serve, and that our value both in our church community and in our homes is based on what, how much, how often, and how well we DO for everyone.
This is not news.
Martha, sister of Lazarus and friend of Jesus, would have scored Achiever as her number one strength, right above Responsibility.
That’s right. This is you, too, and a lot of other Christians. Your word is your bond. You always come through. You never let anything fall through the cracks.
[You] take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it…. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable…. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should. – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p149)
Super-DOer. That’s you.
You have this need to achieve, and whether you want to or not, you find yourself committed to doing more and more. You are the quintessential soccer mom. You have it all together.
You are super human.
You are BUSY.
You are TIRED.
You are JEALOUS and CRITICAL of anyone who is not caught up in your whirlwind of activity and responsibility. You JUDGE.
How do you have time and energy to do and be everything everyone wants and expects you to do and be?
You are a DOer.
So was Martha.
Okay, that’s not news.
Rachel touched on this when she said advertising tries to make us believe we aren’t enough. Kathy touched on this when she said that well-behaved women won’t change the church.
What you need to know is what to DO about it, right?
To be continued…
Community, as Bonhoeffer describes it, requires Jesus as mediator, discipleship, and participation in the incarnation. Today, we’ll conclude with a brief look at the benefits and challenges of community as well as how Bonhoeffer’s theology relates to holistic body theology.
Challenges: pride and disillusionment
Bonhoeffer criticizes those who live apart for their pride, which separates them from living in a right relationship to God and to others. “The wish to be independent in everything is false pride,” he writes in one of his prison letters and continues, “Even what we owe to others belongs to ourselves and is a part of our own lives, and any attempt to calculate what we have ‘earned’ for ourselves and what we owe to other people is certainly not Christian.”
Bonhoeffer recognizes the difficulty of this kind of intentional Christian life and takes great pains to acknowledge that sin happens. He warns against idealizing community life by glossing over sin: “In Christian brotherhood, everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.” The greatest harm to a community comes through disillusionment when sin enters in (as it inevitably will) and is revealed or is kept hidden.
Shame is a deeply crippling issue universal to the human experience. Christian or not, we deal with shame because of our fallen nature. Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics: “Man perceives himself in his disunion with God and with men…Shame is man’s ineffaceable recollection of his estrangement from the origin; it is grief for this estrangement, and the powerless longing to return to unity with the origin.” Shame requires hiding (i.e., we were ashamed because we were naked), and hiding creates an environment of isolation and loneliness within the community, exactly that which community is designed to eradicate. When sin comes out, disillusionment sets in and the community rarely survives.
Benefits: freedom from shame and loneliness
For Christians, however, there is hope: community. Bonhoeffer urges “brotherly confession and absolution” to correct this tendency toward shame. “Lying destroys community,” Bonhoeffer observes, “but truth rends false community and founds genuine fellowship.” It is this truth spoken to one another in community that keeps accountable for the sin that cannot be avoided completely.
Confession and intercession are essential for a healthy community life. Bonhoeffer encourages his readers to confess to one another when he writes, “If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.” When we confess sin in a safe space to a safe person, that sin no longer has power to shame and isolate us from the rest of the community. “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses,” Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, ” I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.” When we pray for someone, it is infinitely more difficult to remain distant from that person. Prayer brings us together, whether we are praying with or for one another, because we are looking to Christ who mediates between us all. Church, like the home, should be a safe environment to make mistakes and be encouraged.
Bonhoeffer suggests in Life Together that the “fellowship of the Lord’s Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian fellowship.” However, the imprisoned Bonhoeffer feels the lack of community on a much more human level: “I very much miss meal-time fellowship…So may not this be an essential part of life, because it is a reality of the Kingdom of God?”
Living and acting out the spiritual disciplines within the community are certainly essential, but Bonhoeffer realizes while he is in prison that we most feel the lack of simple coming together, sharing life together; not just the Lord’s Supper but any supper. Not just confession but communication. Not just the visible church-community but daily and freely communing with fellow believers. It is the sense of togetherness that Bonhoeffer suggests as the greatest benefit of community. After all, where two or three are gathered, there is Christ among them.
Holistic Body Theology: The Body of Christ and the Body of Christ
Part of holistic body theology is engaging in healthy community as the body of Christ. We are the community of God, and through Christ we interact with one another to build each other up as we seek to live fully into our identity as the image of God. Likewise, another part of holistic body theology is engaging in healthy interaction with the world, both as individuals and together with the community of God. This is the body of Christ, the activity and impact of the community of God as we participate in the incarnation of Jesus.
As we learned from our tour of Bonhoeffer’s writings this week, community and Christian fellowship are infinitely vital to the Christian life. Equally vital, however, is the role of the visible church-community in the world and the impact it should have through participation in the incarnation of Jesus.
Bonhoeffer writes, “A man’s attitude to the world does not correspond with reality if he sees in the world a good or an evil which is good or evil in itself…and if he acts in accordance with this view,” that is, idealistic interaction with the world is lacking in the reality of the call of Christ to the action of the disciples. Rather, “his attitude accords with reality only if he lives and acts in limited responsibility and thereby allows the world ever anew to disclose its essential character to him.” (This is what Richard Niebuhr would call Christ transforming culture.)
We are called to be a city on a hill, but we’re not supposed to be a gated community, inaccessible if you don’t know the secret code. Jesus entered into the context of his day, and so should we. The role of the Christian in the world is to think and act according to the ever-changing reality of events in the world. Bonhoeffer makes community life seem so apparent and logical, so clear in scripture, so necessary a part of the live of the disciple who is participating in the incarnation and acting on behalf of those who need justice.
Let’s take our cue from Bonhoeffer and follow his example into a community that has Jesus as the mediator, is made up of costly disciples, and is determined to participate both individually and communally in the incarnation as the body of Christ.
This week, we’ve been honoring Bonhoeffer‘s birthday by taking a tour of some of his writings to discover what he teaches about community. In addition to Jesus as mediator and discipleship, let’s look at the third requirement for community.
3) Responsibility and deputyship (participation in the incarnation)
Bonhoeffer says that we as Christians should be in community because Christ exemplified it for us every day he walked on earth, especially in the way he interacted with his disciples: “In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them.” We are God’s deputies here on earth, participating in the incarnation of Christ. If Christ is our example of community life, how much more are sacrifice and service to be the themes of our interaction with community members on a daily basis? “If you reject God’s commanding word,” Bonhoeffer warns, “you will not receive God’s gracious word. How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point?”
Repeatedly, Bonhoeffer stresses the fact that community is about dying to self. In agreeing to participate in the incarnation by becoming a disciple and taking on the responsibility of entering into the lives of others, we are freed to suffer—“The cross is not the terrible end of a pious, happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death”—and freed to forgive—“Jesus’ call to bear the cross places all who follow him in the community of forgiveness of sins. Forgiving sins is the Christ-suffering required of his disciples…of all Christians.”
When we give up the claim to our own rights, we are freed to turn our attention and concern to the rights of others. This freedom is the deputyship Bonhoeffer charges to each Christian; it is an ethic of relationship and community, the requirement of incarnational service for others. In one of his prison letters, Bonhoeffer writes, “It’s remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves.”
Our human nature has been designed for community life. It is a sacrifice to be in a position to love others rightly, but it is a sacrifice only because of our sinful nature, not because of our true natural inclination. Dying to the self makes us able to live the life we have been designed for, which is why Bonhoeffer can create an ethic that requires our participation in the lives of those around us.
Regardless of the environment in which we live, community living is still a responsibility and expectation of every disciple. Bonhoeffer asserts, “This principle [of deputyship] is not affected by the extent of the responsibility assumed, whether it be for a single human being, for a community or for whole groups of communities….[E]ven the solitary lives as a deputy, and indeed quite especially so, for his life is lived in deputyship for man as man, for mankind as a whole.”
Whether we’re in a position to live intentionally among other Christians, or whether we find ourselves in a position of being a solitary light to the world, we are all called to participate in the incarnation of Jesus as the body of Christ in the world.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the challenges and benefits of being in community and what it means to be the body of Christ.