A Musing about Emergencies 1/25/2023
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “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.”
All of us have been through emergencies.
Perhaps you or a family member have been in a severe car wreck or other life-threatening situation.
Perhaps you have gone through a weather emergency.
Maybe it was a house fire or a flood or other perilous situation.
Maybe it was the loss of a job or some financial crisis.
I imagine all of us have been through medical emergencies either for ourselves or a loved one.
And of course, all of us have walked the road of death of a friend or family member. While we might call it a crisis – death whether expected or unexpected is an emergency situation.
Now as a self-proclaimed word nerd who took both Latin and Greek (grades in those classes are unimportant), I have gained a fondness for breaking words down into both their roots and looking at their etymology (fancy term for the history of the word.)
The root of the word emergency is emerge. It comes from the Latin emergere which means ‘arise, bring to light.’ The word’s next iteration is found in the word “emergence,” - the act or process of emerging, as from a hidden or submerged place.
The suffix “ency” also comes from the Latin suffix –entia and it yields two types of nouns, those representing “action or process” and those representing “qualities or states.”
Thus, an emergency is a process by which something arises or comes to light from an unknown, unplanned for or unforeseen event. And once this event occurs and throughout the experience, we are living in that state – a state of crisis or put simply an emergency.
Now as humans we often over-dramatize many things. We call things an emergency. For example, this week at my house when we ran out of diet coke my referring to the need to get more being an emergency was a huge over-exaggeration. This is especially true when we consider my lack of diet coke with true emergencies like folks getting news of the need for immediate heart bypass surgeries or a terrible car wreck with critical injuries or the now all too familiar news of law enforcement being called in response to mass shootings.
With true emergencies what emerges is what is really most important in life. It includes life itself, the love we share with others, the health of family, friends, and ourselves, food, water, shelter, and, of course, most importantly your faith life - our relationship with God.
With emergencies, even non-believers will sometimes turn to prayer. I am honest the byproduct of going through an emergency is that I often reexamine my own priorities and recognize all the things that I have let get in way of my real priorities.
In the interaction above with Mary, Martha, and Jesus – Martha sees all the preparation for a meal as an emergency that Mary who is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him talk is failing to recognize. She asks Jesus to point out the urgency of all that needs to be done.
Jesus however tries to point out that Mary is the one who understands what is truly important and it is her faith walk and her spiritual growth and not the mundane work. It is not that this work is unimportant but that at this moment the truly important thing is sitting with Jesus – the Son of the Living God.
I’ll be honest I am still not sure Martha “gets it.” The text does not say Martha says, “oh you are right I have lost track of my priorities. Hey, Mary scoot on over and make room.”
However later I am quite sure Jesus’s point hits home.
In John 11 the same Mary and Martha referred to in this text has their brother Lazarus get sick and die very suddenly. They had called for Jesus because it was an emergency. Jesus takes two days to finally go.
When he gets to their village there are tears and anguish. Neither Mary nor Martha is preparing a table or worrying if the sheets are changed on the guest bed. They have lost their beloved brother - it is something that has arisen and come to light from an unplanned or unforeseen event. And everyone in the home is living in this state of crisis. Suddenly, priorities are clear.
And in this emergency, Mary and Martha are holding on to hope in the resurrection which Jesus had been proclaiming. Jesus who is fulfilling prophecy and providing a sign for which all will know he is the Messiah raises Lazarus from the grave. I also believe that he did this because of his great love for this family and Lazarus for whom he even wept.
Of course, our challenge as Christians is to keep the first things first all the time – not just during an emergency. And while Jesus tried to say this when he visited Mary and Martha. I think it took the death of Lazarus for it to sink in.
May we remember what and where the light is every day and may we seek to walk in that light not just in an emergency but in our day-to-day life as well.