The Myers-Briggs Test and Personality Assessment, a measurement tool in assessing different human temperaments, has been used in both the corporate world and in church communities since 1944 in determining different personality types. The four temperaments, as they were initially called, included “meditative” and “executive.” The account of Martha and Mary, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, gives us a glimpse into these two categories:
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:40-42 NABRE)
Determining whether you are a “Martha” or a “Mary” has become an informal qualifying question in religious circles, particularly for those involved in ministry. More often than not, the response indicates a combination of both. Prayer and action should be complementary, and not mutually exclusive.
In today’s world, there are plenty of things to be “anxious and worried” about. In the temporal realm, time taken to reflect and plan should precede any important action we undertake. Putting “first things first”, as Mary did, was commended by Jesus, and offered to Martha as a template for discipleship: prayer and counsel first, followed by acting on careful discernment. Jesus offers this advice:
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:28-31 RSVCE)
In our Christian walk, we can choose the “better part” of placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus in prayer as Mary did, and heed the advice given to Martha: things that produce anxiety and worry will always need attention in our lives, but they should be subordinate to the seeking of God’s kingdom. Let us make this scripture from Matthew our prayer, no matter which personality type we are:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Matthew 6:31-34)
The “day’s own trouble” has always been enough to merit our best attention. While an argument could be made that we in the 21st century have “more on our plates” than those who lived in ancient Palestine, we also have more resources at our disposal to negotiate a day’s demands. The personality types that Martha and Mary represent are still present after all these centuries. It is not a question of one being better than the other, but rather a call to work together according to the “measure of faith that God has assigned”:
For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8)
Let us pray for the grace and strength to serve God cheerfully with the gifts we’ve been given, in concert with all of the members of the Body of Christ.