Listening before Serving

Luke 10: 38-42

Today I am going to preach on the Gospel reading which is the account of Jesus interaction with two sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus as he was travelling was invited by Martha into their home. Martha was welcoming Jesus and showing hospitality. Now while he was at their home Mary was sitting as Jesus feet listening to him speak. Martha was outraged because all of work of serving was left to her, all the meal preparation, the getting things organized, the making sure things were running smoothly were left to Martha and she did not think that it was fair. So she complains to Jesus wanting him to tell her sister off, so Mary would help her serve Jesus. Jesus however responds by saying: 41 “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about this account I really feel for Martha. She is the one who opens their home to Jesus and welcomes him in. She is the one who is serving him. Can you imagine her inviting Jesus into her home and not serving so there is no food and drink. This would have been, and is still today, considered rude. Martha was serving her Lord, while her sister Mary was not helping her. And yet it seems like Jesus chastises Martha, not Mary. But the question is why?

Throughout the last 2000 years many Christians have had difficulty with this account. Some Christians have understood that Mary chose the right thing: that is to sit as Jesus feet and listen to his Word. This is all that matters, so they close themselves off to the world, live monasteries where they can dedicate themselves to meditating on the Jesus. But this does not sit well with others. They will say Jesus came to serve us, and we are to serve others. This involves actual work, it involves us actually doing things, we can’t just sit back and contemplate God’s Word; we actually have to live it.

Martha’s serving was not the issue here, it was right for her to be serving Jesus as she was. The issue was that in her serving she became distracted. In serving her Lord, she took her eyes of him and focused on the service its self.

We get distracted at times don’t we? We can easily focus on all the things that we are doing, or perhaps we need to be doing, for Jesus to serve him but in the process take our eyes off him. The temptation we all face is the get lost in the ways that we are to serve him, to the point that we are not longer listening to him. We neglect to be in God’s Word, we neglect to read and to ponder what Jesus is saying to us so that we can respond, because we are so busy trying to serving him.

Martha had a good heart she really wanted to serve her Lord, but because she had taken her eyes away from Jesus, she was serving her own way in her own strength. The emphasis of her welcoming of Jesus was on her actions for him. What she was doing for him; the way that she was serving him.

Mary on the other hand, was not distracted. She realised that whilst Jesus was with them it was important to be where he was, to put herself in a position so that she could listen to him speaking. Mary was going all out to do this. Whilst it may not look like it to us she was taking a big risk. In that time and in that culture, for a woman to put herself in that position, where she is sitting at the feet of a man who entered her home, would have simply been scandalous. For a woman to put herself at the feet of a man implied closeness and intimacy. Mary was making herself vulnerable to Jesus. She wanted to connect with him, to listen to him in an intimate way. Mary had her eye on the prize so to speak.

And she was in a position where she was receiving from Jesus his Word to her. She made the choice to want to be close to Jesus and to listen to him. This is something that Martha could never do because she was so busy in her actions of serving.

It is easy for us to hear this account and think that Mary and Martha are the main characters in this account, but again, as with the case with the Good Samaritan, the main character here is Jesus himself. The one thing that is needed to according to Jesus, was hearing the word of God’s messenger and this had priority over providing for his physical needs (also Luke 8:15, 21). And while being focused on hospitality and serving others are very important parts of being a disciple it is even more important to have followers who attend to Jesus’ Word. In this way this saying of Jesus is less a condemnation of Martha’s busy acts of service and more a commendation of Mary’s attitude as a disciple.

Again here is the lesson for you and me. As Australians we live in a culture that says to us that we need to be productive. We can never be idle. And churches also fall into this habit of believing that the church as to be productive. We have to be doing things, we have to be busy, we have to be serving. And even as faithful Christians we can be caught up in the busyness of everyday living and the result is that the study of the Lord’s word is neglected. We lose sight of the one thing that is needed because we focus on all that there is to do.

We need to listen to Jesus and his Word to us. We need to put ourselves at his feet; the feet of the word of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the very Son of God. As he is the one who fulfilled what was written by Moses and the prophets, and he did it all for you and me. He lived the obedient life for you; he set his face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for you; he was raised from the dead and exalted for you; and he will come again in glory for you. His word will save you and transform your life. It is the one thing needed. Like Mary we need to let the Lord’s powerful and saving word mesmerize us.

The question is not so much what do I need to do for Jesus? But: What does Jesus do for me?

It is important here that we do not get the wrong impression. You and I as Christians are called to live a Holy life, we are called to follow Jesus with our actions, but it does not start with us serving him, but it starts with us receiving from him through his Word to us, then we go out and serve. We need to, like Mary, put ourselves at his feet first. This is not about one other here. It is not just listening to Jesus and neglecting to serve our Lord with our actions. No they belong together we serve him because he first comes and serves us.

And this is what worship for us is all about. We all come here this church building in midst of our often busy and sometimes complicated lives. We come here to put ourselves at Jesus feet. We don’t come here so much as to do, but as to listen. We listen to his words of forgiveness, we listen to his Word read out, we listen to my preaching in which his Word comes, we come to the Lord’s table to receive his body and blood, to help us and to strengthen us. Our Worship has to do with receiving from him in order that when we leave here we then serve him in our everyday lives. We come to worship to put ourselves at his feet. We also do this when we read our bibles at home, when we read it, we put ourselves at his feet, we let him speak to us, then we try to serve him.

So I encourage you all to think about how you can get yourselves into his Word. To think about how you can put yourselves at his feet, so that you can listen to him speaking to you. So that when you do serve others around others around you as you are called to do, you can know that our Lord is with you in your serving him and that you’re serving the way the he wants you to.