A few years ago something like 21 people working for French Telecom took their own lives. The company finally began to take a serious look at what was going wrong and realised that they were just pushing their employees too hard and they couldn’t take it anymore. So the company began to change their work policy and take some of the pressure off. It is terrible that it would come to that, but I think it is also a good reminder that we are not machines and we are not just meant to be worked to death. Apparently something similar has been happening in China where many people were also being pushed too hard and there is a high rate of suicide. We are not machines; we are body and spirit and both aspects of the person need to be looked after if we are to remain healthy.
Much of our society has gone like this, working ‘like the hammers of hell,’ as the expression goes. We often don’t seem to know when to stop, or even how to stop. And now because Sunday is a shopping day there seems to be no beginning or end to the week. Business people will tell you that (in Ireland at least) Sunday is now the busiest shopping day of the week. Even apart from a religious point of view, this cannot be good for us because we need to be able to rest, to just stop and do nothing. We are not machines.
‘Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.’ Look at what Martha was saying to Jesus. ‘Can’t you see how much work there is to be done? Tell my sister to be busy too. She shouldn’t just be sitting there.’ But Jesus’ reply is interesting. He says that only one thing is necessary. He doesn’t just say that there is nothing wrong with her sitting and listening to him; he says it is necessary and that she shouldn’t be stopped from doing that. Stopping and listening is not just a nice idea, but it is necessary. Why is it so important?
There is an order to God’s creation. It will work a certain way and the Lord knows what we are able for much better than we do. The third commandment that God gave us is to keep the Sabbath/Sunday holy. It is to be a day of rest, where God is remembered, where God is given priority; but also a day where we can rest and recover because we need it ourselves.
When the people of Israel (who represent all of us) were wandering through the desert, initially they had nothing to eat. So God provided them with manna, a food that they could collect each day. This sustained them each day. But He also told them that they should go out and collect each day just enough for that day; but on the day before the Sabbath they should also collect enough for the Sabbath, so that they could rest and give God priority that day. To put it in modern English, He said, ‘Do enough shopping on Saturday so that you don’t have to go shopping on Sunday.’ Sunday is to be a day of rest from unnecessary work, where we can worship God, relax, take a walk with family or friends. Why? Because we need it. It is necessary for our sanity. It is part of the order that God created. God is well aware of what we need most, because God created us.
God also asks us to rest so that we can continually learn how to listen to him. I often hear people say that they wish God would speak to them more. The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, but mostly we are not listening. To a large degree we don’t even know how to listen any more, because we have gotten used to being so busy and having so much noise around us all the time.
You might be thinking that that is just how society has gone now and we should get used to it. But if we are following the way of Christ as we say we are, then we need to listen to what God is saying to us, even if the rest of society doesn’t. Christians have always been different and we will be different if we follow the path that God shows us. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe in this or not?’ Do I believe this is what God is saying to us or not? If we believe this—as we say we do—then we need to listen to what God asks of us and follow his directions, because they are there to help us. The order that God has given his creation is not to make life difficult, but to help us blossom because God knows better than any of us what will help us grow.
Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things; only one thing is necessary. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.