A number of years ago, Steve Martin did a remake of the movie, Father of the Bride. The movie is about how this father, George Banks, has to come to terms with the fact that his daughter is getting married. At first he doesn’t like it, does everything he can to either discourage it, or pretend that it isn’t happening. But, the turning point comes in the movie and George finally accepts that the wedding is going to happen, and that it is a good thing. From that point on, George is committed to making this the best wedding it can be and he doesn’t want to miss one moment of it. The problem is that just when he’s ready to enjoy the reception, distractions get in the way. There’s a problem with the parking and he has to fix it. There’s a problem with one of the doors to the reception area and he has to fix it. There is a problem with the caterers and so he has to fix it. He’s so distracted by everything that has to get done in order to make it a good reception for everyone else, that not only does he miss the reception, he misses seeing the bride and groom when they leave for the airport. The one thing he wanted was to be present for that moment, but distractions got in the way. We understand what that is like, don’t we, being distracted? You are getting ready to leave the house and the phone rings, suddenly you have a dilemma. Do you answer it, or do you leave and let the machine get it? After all, you are on your way to go and watch your grandson play baseball and you don’t want to miss it in case he gets a home run. But, the phone is ringing. It could be important. So, with a huff you walk over and pick up the phone. It’s a friend just calling to talk, and try as you might there is no getting your friend off the phone. An hour later you finally arrive at the baseball field to find out that you missed your grandson get a two run homer. If only you hadn’t been distracted by that phone call, then you wouldn’t have missed what you most wanted to see. Distractions get us every time, don’t they? We blame distractions for the things that we miss out on in life, either the things that we need to do, or the things that we want to do. For example, every book I have ever read on spirituality has a whole chapter devoted to the handling of distractions in our lives, because it always seems to happen that our intentions to set aside time to be with God gets interrupted by one distraction or another. Distractions are like little gremlins hiding out at the periphery of our lives, ready to jump out and derail us from doing what we need to do, or what we want to do. But you see, here is the thing, distractions are a choice. A distraction is simply our choice of what is, at least, second best, or certainly, what is less important. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I don’t go to bed when I should in order to get a good night’s sleep. Instead, I stay up late and the result is that I am tired and less productive the next day. Of course, I'll blame it on distractions. I’ll say that I got caught up in a TV show I was watching, or I was playing a video game and I couldn’t stop because I was right in the middle of a level and I didn’t want to lose my spot. But, it’s not the TV’s fault, nor the video games fault that I am not getting enough sleep. I simply am choosing something that is, at least, second best, and certainly is less important. I am not necessarily choosing something bad; it’s just that I am making choices that are not as good as they could be. That is how it was for Martha. When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Mary and Martha’s house that day, Martha did what every woman of that day would have done. She went into the kitchen, put on her apron, and started fixing supper for them to eat, while the men stayed out in the family room to watch the big game. Ok, maybe not the big game. Either, they would have discussed matters of the day, or, because Jesus was the Rabbi, they would have sat and listened as Jesus explained to them the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, Martha chose to do what was expected of her.
She got out the flour, water, and yeast. She mixed it together and set it in a warm spot to rise so that they could have some bread to eat. Then she went out back and stoked up the fire that they used at breakfast. Then she slaughtered, dressed, and spitted a lamb so that it could start roasting. Then she went back inside and started washing the left over vegetables that they bought at the market the day before. When that was done, she got down her best dishes, and wiped each of them off with the only clean rag she had left in the kitchen, because she hadn’t gotten around to washing the other ones. That’s what she was getting ready to do when Jesus and the disciples showed up. When Martha was satisfied that the dishes were clean, she started setting the table in the living room. I am guessing that was the moment that Martha looked over into the family room and saw her sister Mary. What was she doing in there?
You want to know what Mary was doing? Mary was making a choice, a different choice than Martha. Now, we don’t know whether Jesus invited Mary to join the guys, after all, Jesus was always breaking customs, or if Mary boldly made the decision on her own to sit with the other men as if she too were a disciple. What we do know is that Mary chose to be out there in the family room, while Martha chose to be in the kitchen. Martha was not happy, and, she gets a lot of credit for this, she made it known to Jesus that she was not happy. She didn’t just keep it all bottled up inside. Nevertheless, Jesus’ response, no doubt, caught her off guard.
Jesus makes an interesting statement to Martha. He tells her that Mary has made a choice, which means that, Martha also has made a choice. It was not a bad choice. Some would even say that it was a necessary choice, but it wasn’t the best choice, at least not in this particular situation and in this particular moment in time. Remember, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way to take up his cross for the salvation of the world. Now was not the time for a dinner party. Now was the time to draw near to Jesus, to receive all that Jesus was offering. What Martha chose was good. It’s just that what Mary chose was better, given the circumstances, and Jesus wasn’t going to take that away from Mary.
So much of Jesus ministry is about being present to the moment at hand. It is about paying attention to what is going on, paying attention to what Jesus is doing. When Jesus began his ministry he said to the people, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, now is the time to pay attention. If you want to be part of what I am doing, then you have to pay attention. Later on, Jesus will say things like “be alert, stay awake, be ready.” In other words, pay attention to what is going on. If you want to receive all that I have for you, then you need to pay attention. In this story, Mary was paying attention; she made that choice to be in the moment, and she received what the Lord had to give her.
The call to pay attention, to be in the moment with God continues to be part of our Christian calling even today. The Spirit of God continues to be at work in our lives, through our lives, and around our lives. We receive and participate in the Spirit's activity. In the moment, we find ourselves receiving the blessings of God, and in the moment, we find ourselves sharing the blessings of God with others. That is, as long as the distractions don't get in the way, as long as we are not choosing what is, at least second best, and what is certainly less important. Of course, even if we do get distracted, there is always another chance.
Martha was distracted; she made a choice that was, at least second best, and certainly, was less important. She missed out on what Jesus was doing in that moment. But, with Jesus, there is always another chance.
Later on in the story of Mary and Martha, Martha is given another opportunity to be in the moment with Jesus. When her brother Lazarus died and Jesus delayed in coming to Bethany, Martha was the first person to meet Jesus when he finally arrived in town. She ran out and greeted Jesus when he knocked on their door. Martha was in the moment. She was the one that had that most wonderful conversation with Jesus. She was the one, who in the moment, received the good news that Jesus, himself, was the resurrection and the life.
Being in the moment with God is what we all want, but it is not always easy. Many times we simply choose our distractions instead. We choose what is, at least second best, or what is certainly less important. But, God has a way of bringing those opportunities back around. George Banks, in The Father of the Bride, was heartbroken when he missed saying goodbye to his daughter at the wedding reception. But, a little while later, as he is cleaning up, the phone rings. It’s his daughter calling from the airport. “I just couldn’t leave without saying goodbye,” she says. The opportunity to be in the moment with God isn’t a onetime opportunity. It is an every moment opportunity. And the good news is this, if we miss it the first time, God will bring that moment back around to us again. Thanks, be to God.