Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martha and Mary

Today in the calendars of many churches is the commemoration of Martha and Mary of Bethany (some traditions also include their brother Lazarus).

The well-known passage from Luke 10:38-42 describes a dinner at their house, where Jesus is a guest. Martha, only doing what she was brought up to do, finds that the world is not always so simple (a hard lesson for many of us), while Mary learns that sometimes just being quiet and receptive is exactly right (equally hard for some others, I suppose).

For an appropriate hymn we're already back to John Newton, whose Olney Hymns included the following.

Martha her love and joy expressed
By care, to entertain her guest;
While Mary sat to hear her Lord,
And could not bear to lose a word.

The principle in both the same,
Produced in each a different aim;
The one to feast their friend was led,
The other waited to be fed.

But Mary chose the better part,
For Jesus' words refreshed her heart;
While busy Martha angry grew,
And lost her time and temper too.

With warmth she to her sister spoke,
But brought upon herself rebuke;
One thing is needful, and but one,
Why do our thoughts on many run?

How oft are we like Martha vexed,
Encumbered, hurried, and perplexed!
While trifles so engross our thought,
The one thing needful is forgot.

Let other hearts the world admire,
Thy love is all that I require!
Gladly I may the rest resign,
If the one needful thing be mine.

John Newton, c. 1779; alt.

Tune: WINDHAM (L.M.)
Daniel Read, 1785

Since Olney Hymns contains no tunes for its texts, and I don't ever recall seeing this in any other hymnal, I chose one from the same period, perhaps the kind of tune that Newton's congregation would have used. Daniel Read was an early American composer, so his tune may never have actually been matched with the English Newton's text, but I think it fits. (My own somewhat Victorian tendencies might have chosen something like ARIZONA, but that's not always an impulse to be followed.)

P.S. You can read a bit more about the Vermeer painting above, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha at the Essential Vermeer website.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I like the tune, which I had not seen before (though I may have heard it; sounds a bit familiar).