Just what is progress anyway? I’m making progress this week. I’m getting things done, making decisions, and working the plan. I felt a progress report was in order.
Progress in our world means: positive development; advance of human society; motion toward something. That’s just the nouns. The verb form is to improve; move along; and help complete something. [Ref. Encarta Dictionary]
But how does God view progress? I’m not really sure. I am sure it’s nothing like my rushing around checking the tasks off my list. I’m not sure I’m going to like it but I’m diving into His Word to see what I can find! Here we go!
I looked up the word ‘progress’ in the bible. It was disappointing, there are only 14 references to progress in the New American Bible Revised Edition, and 4 in the New King James Version. The word is used in practical ways. Things like progress in a journey, meal, or faith.
Then I thought about Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Like a stereotypical mom I identify with Martha. She was getting the job done! She sees progress as serving Jesus and the crowd around him. Checking items off the list she becomes overwhelmed and demands from Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
I can hear my voice in Martha’s. When I have said similar words, my voice becomes shrill dripping in frustration. The anxiety builds as the tasks pile up to make my vision come true. However, this is not Jesus’ vision for the moment.
In his response I hear a soothing soft masculine voice. Not critical just stating facts: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
If I was in Martha’s place I would have been crushed with grief. What did I do wrong? I feel that way under criticism whether it is gentle or harsh. I try so hard, I think to myself. That is why I see Jesus as using a gentle tone. He calls her name twice softly with love. It captures her attention to listen, it does not shut down her heart.
And just what was Mary doing? Verse 39 describes her actions; “…Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word.” Mary was listening. Jesus loved Martha enough to gently capture her attention to listen and to be with Him.
Words on the page do not give us the context to any of our senses except sight. It is only what we can read with our eyes. We have to “hear” it in our spirit. I have heard priests and ministers read this passage with a sharp critical tone. Like a father admonishing a child. Comparing the siblings, “Why can’t you be like (insert name here)” kind of thing. That tone never felt right to me.
I’ve also heard this passage taught with a gentle voice. The gentle voice soothes my soul. Soft tones draw me closer to learn what I need to hear. Like Martha I need to slow down and enjoy the presence of our God.
What happens with Mary and Martha in their lives? John 11:5 continues their story, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Their family drew close to our Savior. In John 11:1-44, Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead. So was there progress? What I found here is Martha goes from worried, harried, and distracted to a personal friend and believer in the Son of God. She still fussed over Jesus in her grief over her brother’s death. I can just picture our Lord smiling and shaking His head as He asks them to remove the stone, and she says in John 11:39 “Lord, by now there will be a stench…” In my words “Wait! he stinks!” Jesus still blesses her family because He knows their hearts including Martha’s.
I see progress in my plans and tasks but, the biggest progress I’ve made in these last few years is in my heart. That is where Jesus knows us best. This scripture bothered me for many years. I didn’t like Jesus admonishing Martha as I had been taught. Actually writing this post solidified what I have learned about Jesus over the years. Years ago I couldn’t “hear” the tone of what he was saying to me. I have finally “heard” him speaking as a friend to a friend.
The Word of God tells us to rest in His Presence, take refuge in Him, quiet ourselves…and listen. Mary sat at his feet and listened. Martha served and listened.
With God, I’ve done a lot with what I’ve been given. God has changed me more than I ever thought possible. When the world gives me doubts, the Holy Spirit gives me hope. When the world gives me contempt, Jesus gives me love. When the world gives me indifference, God gives me his complete attention. All I have to do is sit and listen.
Rest and listen. He loves you,
P.S: As I wrote, this post went in a completely different direction than I thought. Sometimes I feel my Lord teaches me as I write. BTW all quotes are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)