New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Imagine this story:
It's a hot day and you have been working in the kitchen all morning, so you go outside to sit down and have a rest and some fresh air. As you look out at the familiar landscape you see a group of men walking towards you in the distance. As they get closer you recognise one of them, it's your dear friend Jesus and his disciples. You drop everything and run to meet him, nothing is more important to you in that moment than welcoming Him into your home, into your life. Your one thought is to welcome Him into your home and serve Him.
As Jesus and his friends make themselves comfortable you dash around the house, tidying up, serving drinks and making sure they have everything they need. Then you will begin to prepare a wonderful meal for your honoured guests. But as you rush about you start putting yourself under more and more pressure you are worried that you don’t have enough food, or perhaps your menu may not be to their liking what if your cooking is not to their taste? As the kitchen gets hotter and pots pile up around you, you begin to feel more and more stressed and slowly but surely resentment begins to creep in.
Then you realise that your sister is nowhere to be found, how can you prepare a meal for all these people alone? Where on earth could she be? You start to get angrier and angrier. This is typical of her to leave you to do all the work! You leave the kitchen to look for her and there she is, sat at the feet of Jesus, with all the men. How dare she, what can she be thinking. Her place is in the kitchen not in the company of men. A woman's place isn't sitting around when there is work to be done. A woman's place is preparing for her guests. What will people think of her, what will they think of the family? This is disgraceful behaviour, how can she let the family down like this. What will Jesus think as she sits at his feet?
What’s even worse is that all the while you are working your fingers to the bone preparing food for everyone. How selfish, how thoughtless.
Well it's going to stop and it's going to stop now. So you march into the room where everyone is gathered because by now you are are furious and you are going to speak to Jesus about this.
Now imagine this story:
You have been working in the garden and as you come towards the house you hear laughter and voices from inside. As you enter you see your dear friend Jesus has arrived with his friends. You are over joyed, your only thought is that you desperately want to be near him, to hear him, to be in his presence. You know it’s wrong, you know it's going against tradition you know you will be scolded. But you find yourself sinking to your knees and gazing up into his face, soaking up his every word, basking in his presence. At that moment nothing else matters but Him. Not the fact that you are in the company of men, not the fact that you know you should be in the kitchen helping to prepare the food with your sister, not the fact that a woman’s place is not in the company of men. Nothing matters but Jesus. He is everything to you and you can't and won't be torn from his presence, everything else can wait there is only one thing worth being concerned about and that is Him.
I wonder who you would be in these two stories, if you were really honest would you be Mary and throw yourself at Jesus’ feet or would you be Martha, desperate to serve desperate to please but then as your work load becomes heavy you begrudge your service because you are too busy and you are missing out on the fun?
I am afraid I am a bit of a Martha, my spirit desperately wants to serve God and in my eagerness and enthusiasm to serve I often find myself taking on too much. Then when I can’t cope with my workload and I'm exhausted and stressed I start to begrudge my service and I can’t resist the temptation to complain. It is a this point that you defeat your objective because when you start to resent your service, the service that was originally a joy, is no longer a joy to you, or those you want to serve. In fact once it is resented it ceases to be service at all.
Jesus said and did many incredible things during the course of his life and only a fraction of these are recorded in the gospels. Every gospel writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had to pick and choose from many stories in Jesus' life, and then decide just which story to tell and which to dispose of. Luke is no exception. So when Luke decides to include six or seven sentences about a couple of sisters named Mary and Martha, we need to ask: Why? What point is Luke trying to pass on to us? Why was this particular story so important? What was the message behind the story? What can we learn from this story? And most importantly how can this story make an impact on our own story?
As a woman this story has importance to me because it is a story of the early Christians arguing about what a woman could and could not do as Mary breaks the traditional Jewish custom and not only sits in a room with men but sits at the feet of Jesus. To put the story into context, Martha and Mary of Bethany were leading members of a family who were very close friends with Jesus. You would imagine that Jesus' friendship was with Lazarus, since he was a man, but notice who issues the invitation: Martha. She invites Jesus to stay in her home. Since we don't hear of her husband, she may have been widowed. Then we meet her sister Mary, who while Martha is bustling about the house getting ready for dinner, sits at Jesus' feet listening. At that time in that culture preparing meals were considered part of a woman's responsibility. A woman being taught the Torah was frowned upon. That Jesus would allow Mary to remain and listen, was in itself, radical as women were actively discouraged from learning by the Rabbis. Once again we see Jesus break down the laws and shatter tradition-inviting people on the margins of society to join Him.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus appear three times in the Gospels. Firstly, in this story, then later when Lazarus died, and Jesus restored him to life and finally when Mary anointed Jesus with costly nard perfume not long before his death. She may also have been at the crucifixion. So this family and their stories appear at prominent times in Jesus ministry and their stories mark significant points of teaching.
This close, familiar relationship would explain then, why Martha felt comfortable enough with Jesus to openly display her feelings. Her words "Do You not care?" and "My sister has left me to serve alone" show her anger and her frustration. For Martha to suggest that Jesus didn't care whether Mary was not helping shows both a close relationship and considerable forthrightness. Martha didn't suggest to Jesus that He ask Mary to help her; she told Him directly to "tell her to help me." This moment is the climax of the story, the room must have fallen silent and I am sure you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. But Jesus’ response was not one of anger or reproach, but of tenderness: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things" Martha was fretting over something which was really important to her: providing a meal for Jesus and His disciples. But Jesus shows her how unimportant it was compared to listening to His teachings. Jesus continued: "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her"
Jesus sees that Mary made a conscious decision between two alternatives: She chose listening to Jesus over preparation of a meal. This may sound strange to those who, like Martha, think serving a guest is the most important. But wouldn't that depend on who the guest is? Mary saw this situation differently. She chose to listen to the wisdom of Jesus, her Saviour, while she had the opportunity.
In life People constantly have to make choices and these choices have a direct effect on their lives. Jesus said Mary chose "the good part" because it is the good part that we need. As Christians we should always seek the good part. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us our highest priority in life should be to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” And in Luke He tells us that: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God".
For this family, the Word of God was in their presence in the person of Jesus Christ. Mary knew that Jesus' words were the most important needs of her life. His words were her food, her nourishment and her sustenance. Her greatest need were the words of eternal life. Mary knew that the good part lasts forever; she knew that the good part, which will not be taken away, is God's living water, Gods truth. Like Mary, we need patient faith, because in a world filled with frivolous trappings and empty, momentary pleasures we can keep the good part forever. You would think that it would be Martha that was praised for serving the needs of other. But Jesus commended Mary for choosing the good part, for choosing to listen to the holy words, and to soak up the truth.
What Mary’s story teaches us is that we should all follow her example. Have you ever noticed that the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) comes right after the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? There is a purpose in that — the authors of the gospels arranged their material very carefully, with great thought and intention. The story of Mary and Martha is intended, to correct a possible misunderstanding of the parable of the Good Samaritan which teaches us how we are to behave as Christians; to show love and mercy to others whenever the opportunity arises, so seek to do good and to serve others, to love our neighbour. But sometimes we can fall into the trap of allowing true service to transform into bitterness. This is what we see with Mary and Martha. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” and Martha, on the other hand, “ distracted with much serving”. When Martha asked Jesus to rebuke Mary and help her serve, Jesus said “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. Look at how Jesus meets Mary’s anger with love: 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things....' As he repeats her name he is trying to calm her then gently show her that: "only one thing is necessary," a single dish is all they need, not a huge banquet. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple meal, a single dish.
I always used to struggle with this story because I felt sorry for Martha, I could identify with her, in fact I can remember times when I have felt just like her. After all, Mary is enjoying herself with the guests while poor Martha works up a sweat in the kitchen. I am sure that Jesus' disciples would have expected Jesus to side with Martha. So it would have been remarkable to them that Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to go and help Martha. But we know that this is Jesus all over, breaking down tradition and cultural expectations, breaking rules and laws and teaching new ones. Jesus is seeking to make an indelible, memorable imprint upon the minds of his disciples. He is teaching them new ways, His ways the ways of the new covenant, His way His truth His life:
"Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Even though it cuts across the grain of societies expectations, even though it means neglecting her regular duties, Mary has correctly discerned that listening to Jesus and learning his ways is more important than anything else. No one can rip this precious spiritual food away from her.
The lesson here is that yes of course we should do good, just like the Good Samaritan. But this doesn’t mean that we should be scrambling around frantically, over-committing ourselves and becoming over busy so that the joy of service becomes begrudging and bitter. We mustn’t allow our service to others distract us from the ultimate reason for our service, which is Jesus himself.
Serve, but don’t become frantic. Sacrifice and go out of your way, but don’t neglect devoted time to worship and prayer. The point of seeing these two stories together is to show us that there can be enough time for us to do both through preparation in prayer and time with God. What we should never do is let our service turn into anxiety and worst of all resentment. We should, like Mary rest in Christ’s presence, soak up his words and let Him guide us, and show us how to be His hands and feet.
So what does this story teach us? Well I think that it teaches us that listening to Jesus and following his teaching is the highest way to show him honour. The one thing that Jesus seeks above all else is the time that we spend listening to him, "sitting at his feet," basking in his presence soaking up his words. That must come first, before all other things. Because this is where peace is found. This is the only place of spiritual rest and spiritual nourishment. This is where we will be guided, this is how we will discern this is how we will do true service this is how we will choose the good part.
So I invite all those Martha’s reading this, to join me and take off your aprons, throw down your cloths to sit at the feet of Jesus, soak up his words and bask in his presence.
Because dinner can always wait.
Father, when I look at my own life, I'm confess I can often be too busy to just listen to you, to sit at your feet and soak up your words. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still before you because I have so many other things on my mind, so many other pressures upon me. Please forgive me for my restlessness. Forgive me for putting my agenda before yours. Help me to take off the apron and put down the cloth, to listen with unclogged ears. Give me a focused and attentive mind to hear and act upon what you want to teach me today, show me how to choose the good part that I might serve you well.
In Jesus' name let thy will be done. Amen.