An installment in the series on union with our God.
“Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ, not merely imitation of Christ.” ― Richard F. Lovelace
A supervisor of mine had a bumper sticker on his office door that read, “Jesus is coming! Everyone look busy!” With all the activity that modern religiosity has piled on the Christian adherent, one would think that the bumper sticker should have chapter and verse posted with it. Between our shallow, activity-centered culture and an equally shallow, activity-centered Christian sub-culture, it is easy to believe our faith is more to be quantified than qualified. This has harmed far more believers than we will every be able to estimate.
There is an account of an interaction recorded by Luke in his history of the life of Jesus that speaks to this harmful way of relating to our God. It is, of course, the well-worn story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. The story is mostly about Martha. Yet it is Mary and her choice to be in common union – communion – with Jesus that is the take-home.
Luke 10:38-42 “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is very busy in this story, and who can blame her? Jesus is at her home. In that culture there were obligations to host visitors well. The more important the visitor, the more work to be done. Yet Martha is missing the point of the presence of her God in her life. Her busyness is a picture of old covenant living, of religiosity put in place instead of a conscious union with the God of all. That busyness created a focus problem in Martha, one to which we can easily relate.
We often complain about our busyness but rarely do anything to fix it. Our busyness leads to incessant doing, to measuring our lives in terms of outputs. Such busyness has characterized our religiosity, yet it is a distraction to true faith. We tend to measure our spiritual health in terms of what we do and what we avoid doing. The emphasis on doing, on being busy enough to please our God, has supplanted the relationship with Him that He desires with us. The bumper sticker on the supervisor’s door nails it.
The original relationship between our God and His people was not about doing. It was about being in an intimate, face-to-face common union with our God Himself. That relationship was rejected by the humans, but it was never relinquished by our God. He has always been moving to restore the original face-to face relationship the first humans enjoyed. The New Covenant is that restoration. The presence of the Holy Spirit within is the defining feature of this New Covenant era, and it fulfills the purpose of our God in us.
In the story of Mary and Martha, the “back story” is important to understanding what is happening. This is likely not the first meeting between Jesus and the two sisters. Jesus was deeply connected to Martha, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Mary is famous as the woman who poured the vial of perfume on Jesus’ feet in John 11. There are only four people mentioned in the Gospels as people Jesus loved. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are three of them.
How these two women respond to Jesus illustrates the difference between a religious perspective with its performance measures, and the relationship with our God He intends to have with us. Martha in her busy distraction is apparently missing the importance of the presence of God the Son. There is no indication that Martha is preparing for a specific event, but that she is simply in the habit of being distracted with her ministering. Her busyness is in the way of experiencing His presence.
The priority Mary puts upon simply living in the conscious presence of Jesus, staying close to him (“sitting at His feet”), is the relationship our God wants with each of us. In the Hebrew, the idea of “sitting at His feet” means putting oneself under the authority and guidance of a teacher. It is a term of submission. The implication is that Mary submitted her time and attention to her God. Her focus shifted from religiosity-based faith to fully focusing on Him and yielding to His leading.
We have been exploring the deep desire of our God to be in a union relationship, in an intimate friendship and partnership with us here and now. This relationship is why creation exists. Every phase of the God-human relationship since humans rejected union with Him has been moving toward the restoration of the relationship to its original purpose. Now, that purpose is largely fulfilled in the new covenant. Our lives can reflect that purpose on a daily basis.
“Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” – John Murray