Grounded In Experience

by the Reverend Canon Stewart Murray

This article appears in the October issue of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.

When I read the sacred Scriptures I am constantly reminded of how much they are grounded in everyday human experience and that these often mundane settings are the means through which the living God reveals His truth. The sacred Scriptures are rich with humour, tragedy, doubt, suffering, and the many frailties of being human. We can all see something of ourselves reflected in them. For example in the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Sarah, there is doubt and humour as Sarah laughs when she overhears the angels tell her aged husband that she will be a mother in spite of her advanced years; jealousy and sibling rivalry abound in the story of Joseph and his brothers and in the story of King David and Bathsheba there is tragedy as King David’s lust and abuse of power lead to the death of Bathsheba’s husband and the eventual death of his son. The New Testament is also rich in stories that are full of the questions and turmoil that are so much a part of life.

One of the stories that I have been thinking about since it was the Gospel reading one Sunday this summer is the story of Martha and Mary and the tensions that arose when Jesus came to visit their home. Martha, as a good host, was busy preparing to provide food and drink for the guests while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Since Jesus was always in the company of his apostles there was probably a sizeable crowd to look after and Martha complained to Jesus that she was left with all the work. Jesus’ response, spoken no doubt with love, was a rebuke to her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41. I have always been troubled by this story, perhaps because I tend to be like Martha, doing the behind the scenes kind of work that needs to be done but is often taken for granted. When I am honest with myself I do at times feel used and am frustrated that others do not ‘take their turn’. Perhaps you have had a similar experience whether at work, in your family or in your Parish. Jesus’ response to Martha’s, I think, justifiable complaint challenges me to rethink my attitude.

There is a sense of urgency in the whole chapter in Luke. In this story, Jesus’ time is growing short and the opportunities to sit at his feet were going to be no more. Martha was going to miss this rare opportunity to be with Him. This very human story is a reminder that sometimes we simply have to stop, be in the moment and let other things go. Whether it means stopping in the middle of preparing dinner to listen to a friend who calls and needs to talk, even though you would like to tell the friend to call back, or responding with your full attention to a child who rushes in to show you something precious when you are in the midst of checking email.

As I reflect further on this story and what I can learn from it, I realize that when I feel unappreciated my focus is all on me. Focusing on “poor me” does not allow me to see how important behind the scenes work can be in enabling the work of the Gospel. If I see my work as part of the larger whole and remember that nothing done out of a desire to forward the work of the Gospel is ever unimportant, I feel much better. At the same time this story can be seen as a challenge to parish communities to be careful to see that the work of the Parish is shared by everyone and to remember to celebrate the contributions of all.