Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42
This is one of those passages from Sacred Scripture that has such an intense exegetical history that it can be hard to see it in another way; we are trained to concentrate on the distinction between the sisters and to decide what it means for us. So this morning I've been reflecting not on Martha and Mary, but on the image of our Lord in the story.
Jesus refuses to intervene; he will not get involved in the personal drama of the two sisters. Where Martha sees an injustice outside of herself--and who is to say that Mary should have perhaps been helping--Jesus responds by pointing out that Martha's problem is inside herself.
It makes me think of the question that alleged atheists always ask: if there is a God, why does he allow people to suffer so horribly? Why doesn't God just destroy or otherwise rid the world of evil and suffering? It seems to me that such thinking imagines the power or almightiness of God in a human way. It's the same thing as when people joke that someone will be struck by lightning for doing something bad. The power and Lordship of God are just not expressed by control and coercion of the creation or the human heart. Rather, the Incarnation of the Word reveals the God who "takes the form of a slave," placing himself below us as servant.
Forcible intervention, coercion, and disregard for each other's freedom to flourish are at the root of our own suffering in the first place; thus, to imagine that God would act that way is only to create a god in our own image. Instead, just like Jesus does with Martha, God's response to suffering takes the form of invitation rather than intervention. And the invitation is to look at ourselves; to examine the many ways we cause our own suffering and pass that suffering on to others. To refuse to pass our suffering on to another is to embrace the saving power of the Cross. To return to others a blessing instead is to accept the gift of the Resurrection.