The Table Video

Gerald Sittser

Mary Needs Martha and Martha Needs Mary

Professor of Theology / Senior Fellow in the Office of Church Engagement, Whitworth University
October 22, 2016

Gerald Sittser of Whitworth University tells the story of a boastful young monk who’d rather pray than work. Normal Christian life, we learn, includes both working and praying – both Martha and Mary.


Gerald: Here’s another one of my favorites. So there’s a young man, it’s always a young man, right? It’s a young man, and he goes to visit an Abba. It’s always a wise Abba. And he notices that other young monks involved in this little sort of loose, monastic community are working. And he’s shocked by this. He says to the Abba, “These young men are working “instead of praying, I mean they’re living like Martha, rather than Mary, I mean how could this be?” Well the Abba’s a wise man and you can just see this wry grin on his face, right?

And he says “Well, I’ll just put you in a cell “so you can pray all day long to be like Mary,” he says. Well the day goes by, and at the end of the day this young man is wondering where is dinner is. He goes out to the old man, the Abba, and says “Well, where’s my dinner?” And the old man says “Well, “you wanted to pray all day long. “I’m assuming you’re so spiritual, “that you don’t even need any food. “Well, we do, and so we have to work for our food.”

Well, immediately this young man is stricken in the heart and repents of his sin and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry for my pride.” And then the punchline, there are always punchlines, you know. The Abba says to him, “You know, “in a normal Christian life among ordinary Christians, “Mary needs Martha as much as Martha needs Mary. “We have to live like both “if we are to be truly spiritual inward.” Now what a lovely punchline. [gentle electronic music]

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