Week 3 Devotional: Conditional Belonging

I love the story of Martha and Mary in Luke Chapter 10. We read about two sisters, Martha who angrily toils away over a hot oven to serve Jesus and his disciples and Mary who sits, savoring the experience, at his feet.

In a huff, Martha tries to snap Mary into action. The expectation is Mary should be serving, too. Martha is convinced Jesus should say something to her seemingly lazy sister. Doesn’t Jesus want to scold Mary?

When Jesus does not take Mary’s side, it’s a rather profound moment. In Luke 10:41-42 we read, “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Given their context, Jesus is doing something rather bold. You see, women did not commonly interact with Rabbis with such outright openness as Mary had. In an age when patriarchy diminished the role and value of women, Jesus blatantly challenges the oppressive system that distorted the perception of female importance. 

Jesus determines that Mary “...has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Given the focus of Jesus’ ministry on the marginalized, I believe Jesus is validating Mary’s--and every person’s role--as inherently valuable. Experiencing, maybe for the first time, the freedom to share in relational equity with men, Mary and Martha have received from Jesus a transformative message about their inherent value. 

I am inspired by the fact the Mary feels safe enough to interact with Jesus so closely. Affirmed in her position by Jesus, Mary can delight in her role as inherently valuable in the eyes of God. 

For Martha, Jesus tries to calm her frustrations, for she has a different opinion of Mary’s position. Taking the pressure off of her, Jesus mentions that only “few things are needed.” She does not need to prepare an entire feast. He eventually reduces the expectations down to one, simple item and it’s something that cannot be taken away once received. In my opinion, Jesus is referring to the benefits of relational intimacy, including the validation of their role as His beloved. 

Martha was not made specifically for cooking, serving, and keeping everyone happy, but also to be in relationship with Jesus as loved and cherished. Naturally, taking care of tasks is a way of life, but so is setting them down. To Jesus, Martha is more than a woman who can cook, a busybody who can perform. She is also worthy of communing with the Lord. “...[W]hat is better” (Luke 10:42) for Martha is the self-understanding that she too is worthy of communing with the Lord. Jesus gives her a new role- from subservient woman to inherently valuable for all time. 

Learning that perfectionism is not the goal can be an elusive lesson for many of us. But when we finally have the realization of being inherently valuable, it changes our outlook on the world. In this light, it is easy to develop a healthy and sophisticated boundary system that allows us to hold our self-worth intact when ridicule comes our way. A rooted identity stabilizes our motivations, desires, and value systems. When we know where our true worth originates, we are not easily swayed into behaviors that match the behavior of the majority. With no other obligation or measure of status keeping us from enjoying God’s presence, we too understand that we are worthy of sitting at the Lord’s feet.

If you, like me, have ever experienced Martha’s sentiments, it feels awkward—scary even—to sit down the serving tray only to do what feels like nothing. We are, after all, raised to believe it is our service to God that keeps God pleased with who we are. 

Far too often, we want to toil away over the ovens of our lives and make something delicious for God to enjoy. With the sweet aromas of hard work, self-denial, and undue sacrifice lofting out of our kitchens, we become excited to imagine God will enjoy the fruit of our labor. 

Sadly, a person who has not had the opportunity to learn about their inherent, God-given value will live according to a human-made system of feeling worthy through their achievements. Such a person will naturally gravitate toward others who agree with their personal value system. Creating a merit-based tribe founded upon a dualistic belief system (e.g., right vs. wrong, proper vs. improper, or appropriate vs. inappropriate)will inevitably create a system of conditional belonging. Inasmuch, members of these systems will find value as they watch their merits accumulate and perfectionism solidify. Even Martha was trying to convince Jesus to align with her human-made, value-earning sense of worth. 

When we subscribe to a code of ethics that informs a particular view of self-worth, we often block relational intimacy. We lose the ability to share our essence, only allowing others access to the side of ourselves striving for perfection. More so, relational dualism and moralism cannot tolerate differing opinions, only the subjective ‘right’ is acceptable. In this light, a system based on moralism cannot promote—and does not embody—true belonging, but rather conditional acceptance. Critical thinkers and challengers of the status quo often face scrutiny and may even be exiled from the tribe. 

Coexisting with those with whom we disagree, like Martha and Mary, requires a sophisticated ability to tolerate paradox and an ability to withstand the tension of disagreement. It is when we are not threatened by another’s belief system that we offer a pure version of true belonging. When we accept the differing opinions of another AND still love and embrace them fully, that is when we love them unconditionally.

“...[W]hat is better” (Luke 10:42)? Dropping the service tray, turning off the oven, and realizing we are worthy of communing side-by-side with God and our neighbors. ‘Love Undivided’ fully accepts differences. It has the stamina to hold the confusions and frustrations of paradox. It remains steadfast because the person is more valuable than what she/he/they believe. 

Questions for this week's devotional: 

  • Have you been living within the confines of worth-through-achieving? If so, how has this system blocked your ability to feel safety, belonging, and unconditional love?  

  • What has Martha learned about her self-worth? How might you incorporate this into your self-understanding?   

  • Relational dualism and moralism have created a lot of pain for the LGBTQIA  community. How might you work to prevent this from happening within the communities you value most?

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