Workin’ For A Living

For my friend Emily who thinks deeply about the Mary and Martha story.

Workin’ for a livin’, livin’ and a workin’, I’m taking what they’re givin’ ’cause I’m workin’ for a livin’. — Garth Brooks and Huey Lewis

The Desert Fathers were a sort-of weird group of men who fled the cities and frequent persecutions in the first couple of centuries after the resurrection. They built monasteries in the deserts of Syria and Egypt. Sometimes they lived in caves. I have several books by and about them. Much of my “theology” comes from them. Here is a story.

A certain brother came to Abbot Silvanus at Mount Sinai, and seeing the hermits at work, he exclaimed, “Why do you work for the bread that perishes? We read that Mary chose the better part – namely, to sit at the feet of her Lord.” Then the abbot said to his disciple Zachary, “Give the brother a book, and put him in an empty cell, and let him read.” At the ninth hour the brother who was reading began to wonder why the abbot had not called him to eat. Sometime later he went directly to the abbot and said, “Did the brethren not eat today, father?” “Oh yes,” said the abbot. “They have just finished their meal.” “Well,” said the brother, “Why did you not call me?” “Because you are a spiritual man,” answered the abbot. “You do not need the food that perishes. The rest of us have to work. But you have chosen the better part; you have read all day and can surely get along without food.” Wisdom of the Desert

These were deeply spiritual men, but they understood life in a deep sense. They lived in the desert. They could not live from alms giving.

I talked about routines yesterday. Monks, even today, live by a rigorous routine of prayer, worship, study, work, worship, and prayer. We can learn from them even in our “secular” lives.

Remembering what the Apostle Paul warned the people in Thessaloniki. In his first letter, he assumed the imminent coming of Jesus and the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth–the Day of the Lord. By the time of his second letter (2 Thessalonians 3:10), it was apparent that Christians were going to be here a while (he probably never imagined 2,000 years and counting). he wrote, “While we were with you, we gave this order: ‘If anyone doesn’t want to work, he shouldn’t eat.’ ”

The key word in the Mary and Martha story is actually “distracted.” Jesus says, “Martha, you are distracted by many things.” I know many women who worry even to this day about putting on a good meal when perhaps a simple meal prepared with love is sufficient for the guests so that there is time for conversation.

And even the abbot in the story expected others to work so that he could eat all the while condemning them for working. How often do we condemn others ironically while ignoring our own sins?

3 Responses to “Workin’ For A Living”

  1. Emily Wilson Says:

    Thanks, Gary. Yes, I have a problem with this story. Jesus’ dismissive attitude towards Martha will always bother me. Isn’t it the same as the abbot’s attitude?

    • Gary Mintchell Says:

      Jesus was so enigmatic that it is often difficult to know exactly what he was thinking. Were I an actor cast to portray Jesus in a play, often I’d have no idea what tone of voice to use. If anyone tells you she understands Jesus completely—run. Fast.

  2. Prioritize Your Day | Faith Venture Says:

    […] understood, must become part of daily life in the world. Thinking through this, I thought of the story of the monk I wrote about the other day. You know the type–physical labor is beneath me, yet I still want to […]

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