It is important to realise that when Jesus criticises Martha in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) he isn’t saying she shouldn’t cook the dinner for him and the other guests. No. What he is concerned about is the fact that she is so worried about it all that she has missed the point of doing it. Someone I know said, “Oh I used to be just like that, fussing that the house was clean and the dinner was perfect and getting stressed for no good reason.”
But cooking and cleaning are not the only things people can get obsessed about. Think of something you love doing – watching and talking about football or some other sport – playing some game on the computer – or watching a particular programme on the TV. Now God is very happy for us to enjoy things. Look how shocked the holy people in the time of Jesus were, when he kept on going off to parties and having meals with some not very proper people. But everything we do must be done for God. What I mean by this is that when we are doing the thing we enjoy, we must know why we are doing it. As Christians, everything we do is meant to be done for God, and that must include not just the more serious things, like helping other people, and praying for them and for ourselves, but also the fun things that we do.
Let’s take football, or some other sport, as an example, and before those of you who don’t like football or any sport sigh and turn off, let me tell you that I rarely watch it and have hardly ever played it except when I was made to at school! But as Christians we have to work out what is the relationship between football and God? In other words, does God approve of football? The answer must lie in deciding what is football for? Well it fulfils a number of roles. It makes many people happy either playing it or watching it. Indeed for many very poor people struggling with life, football can be a very welcome distraction from their misery. It helps to keep people fit, and to play together as a team. It encourages people to enjoy something together, to shout and laugh and sigh. Surely all these things, God wants. God doesn’t want us to be dull. He made us to fill the world with happiness and laughter, to make a world where people work and play together as friends. He gives us ways through sport of supporting our country against others without going to war, to create a friendly rivalry that spurs people on to be the best they can.
But if football becomes an obsession, if someone neglects his family and his friends because all he is doing is watching it, or analysing the results, or worrying about how his team is doing, and so on, then he is like Martha, isn’t he… or occasionally she? Jesus will say to him or her – You are worrying and fretting about this, and in the process you are missing the point of life.
St Benedict, whose day we celebrated last week taught his monks that they must have a balance in their lives. They must work and pray and rest. Rest here means not just sleep, but any kind of relaxation, though I am pretty certain his monks never played football! So anyone who works all the time, or prays all the time and never rests, never has any relaxation, is not actually doing the will of God. But a lazy person who sits around enjoying himself all day and never works or prays would also be failing God. Each of us must have a balance in our lives, and we do that by trying to remember that everything we do, whatever it is, should be done for God, should be something that God wants us to do.
Let’s go back to Martha now, entertaining Jesus. A famous TV chef once said that when you entertain people you should aim to cook something that does not leave you in the kitchen all the time stressed out at getting the meal right, because if you do, you have missed the point. That was Martha’s problem and that is why Jesus told her she was wrong. To put it another way, St Paul tells us in the 2nd Reading (Col 1 :24-28) that we must remember the mystery that we believe is at the heart of life – “The mystery is Christ among you – your hope of glory.” How easily we can get fussed about the outward things and not realise God’s presence in everything good we do. Some of us can get obsessed like Martha with how we entertain, or like my example can get obsessed about football, but we can also get obsessed about getting our prayer right, or our work. As St Paul says a little later in this letter to Colossians (Col 3:23) “ Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”