Hey, are you a Martha or are you a Mary?Published 9:55am Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom
Here is one of my favorite life lessons: Don’t expect everyone to fit into a mold. It takes all kinds for a workplace, a church, a family or any organization to function well.
A good example of this comes from Jesus Christ in the book of Luke.
In 10:38-42, Luke writes about the home of sisters Martha and Mary.
Martha opened their home to Jesus and the disciples. She was busy doing preparations for the house guests but Mary sat and listened to Jesus.
Martha didn’t like what her sister was doing and, according to the New International Version, said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“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.”
There are a number of ways to look at this story. Indeed, the clearest is to not let so many distractions keep us from hearing Christ. It’s probably a lesson I could learn. I don’t get to church nearly often enough.
But another lesson of Martha and Mary often heard in sermons is that different personalities are necessary in life. Mary was violating traditional roles by sitting at the feet of Jesus, as though she, too, were one of the disciples.
We all have a little bit of Martha and Mary in us. In fact, I know many couples who succeed because one spouse is the Martha, who makes sure preparations are done and bills are paid, while the other spouse is the Mary, who remembers to live in the now and liven up their spirits.
I think when families gather, they need to be more like Mary, but they fight over Martha-type matters. The hospitality is commendable, but stop and enjoy the family members while they are under the same roof.
OK, so what’s this mean for management? Often companies seek leaders and expect them to have certain traits, the type of stuff that time and again some old-school seminars reinforce. But anyone who has followed the success of the technology industry has witnessed new molds in management, new types of leaders not fitting the button-down molds. The field embraces Marthas and it embraces Marys. Some managers do it one way; some another. Various methods work.
I even might say they embrace Washingtons and Lincolns. Washington liked order. Lincoln embraced the end results. Both were great men. And companies benefit from both kinds over having just one. They get more done that way.
So do churches. Churches need some people who like to do the finances and maintain the building and such, while others are moved to sing in the choir or teach Sunday school.
Here is the other lesson of Martha and Mary: Do we sometimes let something good get in the way of something better?
Martha and Mary are the sisters of Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. Later, not long before Jesus enters Jerusalem, he visits their home again. Mary pours expensive perfume on his feet, according Chapter 12 of the book of John. Judas Iscariot questions her actions, saying the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus foretells his fate.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Perhaps we fail to prioritize. Sure, it’s nice to sleep in and lounge around the house with the family Sunday morning. But are we missing something better?
Sure, it is good at work to do something the way we always do it because it is good, but is it preventing us from accomplishing something better?
That’s a good lesson right there.
One other thing I want to point out: It seems the women in the Bible always provide some of the best lessons, especially in a male-dominated 1st century society. I like that. It does my heart good to know that the first people to discover that Jesus had risen from the dead — the good news itself — were women. Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the resurrection. Here’s the kicker: In some Christian traditions, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are regarded as the same person. I always have hoped they really were the same person. She seemed to be an equal among the apostles.
Why did we ever deny women the right to vote? Why did we ever deny women equal rights? Why did we ever deny women could be preachers? It was silly now, looking back on it.
Where else are we closing our minds to the greater good?
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.