I met a girl named Katie in an airport once. She and I had a lot in common. We are both writers infatuated with Jesus, and also the story of Mary and Martha. She passed me a booklet she had written, giving me a glimpse of her own heart, and a deeper understanding of Scripture.
I’ve been reading about Mary and Martha for most of my life. I’ve been excavating it like an archeological dig for about half my life. Because Mary is one of my greatest mentors.
It’s been awhile since I’ve really resonated with Martha. I used to feel an awful lot like her, when my kids were small, and I had no practice whatsoever at stillness (especially stillness of mind). But ever since half-a-lifetime-ago, I’ve been practicing, and learning, and growing.
This morning, I peered, once again, into the scene where their beloved brother has just died. Martha comes storming out, demanding an answer, as to why Jesus had delayed and allowed her brother to lay lifeless in a grave. Mary, comes kneeling, weeping, begging the same question.
My friend, Katie, still resonant with Martha, showed me that God’s response to each of these women was pertinent to their character type. Martha needed answers. She was cerebral about things. So, Jesus spoke to her need for logical answers. Mary was emotionally wounded. Christ’s lack of concern about her brother translated into lack of care for her and her sister.
As I reflect on the first scene in Scripture in which these women are introduced (the one with Martha in the kitchen, serving bitterly, and Mary lingering long at the Feet of Messiah in her living room), I realize that when Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part, He wasn’t simply telling her that Mary’s actions of sitting, stillness, and nearness were better, or that her heart was in a better place (she wasn’t judging anyone else’s actions, like Martha was), but also, I think it may be cracking a code for us, as far as genuine, deep-in-the-bones Christianity.
I think all of us who care about good theology, begin with a cerebral understanding of God. We get so excited to see our pet-theology expounded upon in Scripture, because it validates our beliefs. We love to have iron-sharpening-iron conversations, because even if we’re wrong about stuff, we learn and grow in our knowledge about God. ABOUT God.
But Mary, in her Feet-lingering, was learning what Jesus looked like when He spoke. She was learning the etches of His smile, and the lilt of His voice. She was learning what He smelled like after days-long journeys. She was learning the way His’ eyes twinkled in the Palestinian dusk. She was learning Him.
So, when Jesus didn’t show up in time to rescue her brother, this wasn’t a God she knew a lot of facts about, this was a God she knew and cherished, and believed to know and cherish her. She had seen the tenderness in His sparkling eyes, when He looked down at her and smiled, using her as an example of holiness to dispel her sister’s criticism. Mary’s tears were tears of a wounded heart, who thought she knew His affection, but momentarily couldn’t believe it.
My husband has a sharp theological mind. He can read Scripture like nobody’s business, pointing out a hundred things that connect, and validate one another. He has a rich knowledge about God. But you know what brings him to tears every time… the Cross. When He thinks about God being strung up on a cross, like a criminal, about the passionate Love that was displayed for His bride and His Father, Smiles starts sobbing. Every. Time. You know why? Because Smiles might have a cerebral understanding of Christ, but he also has a deep relationship with Christ. He doesn’t just know about God, he treasures God, and knows that He is treasured by God.
This makes me think of the ocean. Many, if not most Christians, seem to swim on the ocean’s surface, or barely tuck their head under water. And that alone, is pretty amazing. The ocean is so vast and wild, untamable and invigorating. But they are staying where they can manage.
There are those of us, however, who want more. We want to swim to the ocean’s depths, and see the glory of the ocean floor. We want to swim close enough to a sea turtle to touch it’s leg (I did that once, but it took a scuba mask, and overcoming the feeling of panic in my chest, as I descended the ladder and into the unknown and unmanageable). We want to find coral embedded upon rocks no one ever sees, unless they’ve gone deep. We want to see caverns tucked into those rocks, where school of fish go into hiding from predators.
None of this is something you can just read about. To understand it’s fulness, it must be experienced. You have to put on the scuba mask, and go well beyond what you can personally control.
This is like God. You can crack a Book (and you should) to find out what Jesus spent His time doing, or what the Bible says about God, but until you’ve stilled yourself like Mary, and felt a gentle breeze like the kisses of God covering your skin, or leaned deep into that Book, to understand His’ heart of affection and grace, you may swim on the ocean’s surface, but never weep when someone mentions the Cross. Because the cross still seems like a historical account, or a fact about God. Rather, we should be able to look into the wincing face of Christ, and see His grimace as He chose to absorb the brutality of our consequence. We find His affection carved deep into the crevices of His pain-stricken forehead, and it suddenly becomes Love above knowledge.
This isn’t cerebral, this is relational. God poured His deity into human form, so He could have relationship with us. He put a man and woman in a garden, so He could walk with them. He had Moses build a tabernacle, and Solomon a temple, so He could dwell with His people. He gave His chosen ones the Holy Spirit, so He could speak to us and we could hear and be transformed by His voice. He gave us the Bible and prayer, so we could have conversations with God. And if all of this doesn’t leave your jaw agape, and you wondering when your heart will start beating again, perhaps it’s time to take note of what Mary did when Jesus sat in her living room. She sat, in stillness, at His feet. Until she knew the etches of His’ smile.