I was going to write about ‘the law of the Spirit’ today, but then I got distracted…
Seriously, this morning in my devotional reading I read the story of Martha and Mary. These two sisters hosted Jesus in their home in Bethany. Martha, the hostess was busy getting things ready for the meal; Mary, meanwhile, elected to sit in on the interesting conversation going on in the other room, with Jesus and those who had come to listen to him. Luke says that ‘Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made’ (Luke 10:40), and eventually came to ask Jesus to give her sister a good telling off and send her out to the kitchen to help.
This story can be interpreted as a condemnation of the ‘servant ministers’ and an endorsement of contemplatives (it has been). It can also, in contrast, be interpreted as an endorsement of the idea that both temperaments (active and contemplative) have their spiritual gifts and are called to be true to their respective natures (which is weird, as Jesus plainly says “Mary has chosen what is better” [v.42]). I think both of these interpretations miss the mark, but what I want to focus on this morning is that word ‘distraction‘. Boy, is that an important word for me!
‘”Martha, Martha”, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things”‘ (v.41). I think he must be saying that to me many times, if I was only listening. This morning I planned to get right down to work on this RLT, but I got distracted by an ongoing argument over at ‘Thinking Anglicans’ (a website that seems to be designed to tempt me to get involved in pointless arguments), and spent a few minutes composing a clever reply that I subsequently deleted because it was, frankly, a distraction. The internet is a potent source of distractions for me, and I’m not good at putting them in their proper place.
What else distracts me? The good opinion of others, for sure. I like to be liked and respected, and there are times I do and say things I shouldn’t do and say, in the effort to win approval. My own selfish ease is also a potent distraction. I like a comfy life, with lots of time to do the things I enjoy doing. I don’t like it when someone or something else takes control of my time. My annoyance (I try to hide it, and i think for the most part I succeed) is a potent distraction.
There are the standard culprits too: money and the things that money can buy. We’re all part of this particular road show, given the culture we live in. “I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear”. The things that dazzle and tempt me probably aren’t the same as the things that dazzle and tempt you, but we’re all dazzled and tempted in some way or other, of that I’m sure.
What’s all this stuff distracting us from? Simply put, it’s distracting us from doing the will of God: loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Serving can be a distraction from that, if it’s all about putting on a good spread so that Jesus (and the neighbours looking on) will be impressed, but this doesn’t mean that all serving is a distraction (just look at the previous passage, the story of the Good Samaritan). Contemplation, after the pattern of Mary, can also become a distraction if we spend all our time fascinated with the condition of our own souls and think of our neighbour (or, God forbid, our small children) as interfering with our own spiritual quest.
“Tim, Tim, you are worried and upset – and distracted – by many things”. Yes, Lord, I am. So today, could you please help me to place them all in perspective and intentionally focus on the stuff that you think is important: loving you and loving my neighbour? Thank you.