Luke 10:38-42 (EHV)
38 As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus came into a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at the Lord’s feet and was listening to his word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her serving. She came over and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.”
41 The Lord answered and told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not be so worried and upset about so many things, but help us choose to do the one thing which is needed as we listen to our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a temptation to divide the world between the ‘Martha’s’ and the ‘Mary’s’.
For example, when we listen to this account of Jesus’ life, we might recognise the people like Martha.
We think of those who are always busy doing things, you know, those people who just can’t seem to sit still! They’re the achievers, the fixers, the busy-bodies, or the reliable ones you can count on to get things done. They’ll be the ones always serving on committees, doing volunteer work, serving in the kitchen, going the extra mile, and working in the background.
On the other hand, we might think of some people like Mary.
When we think of people like Mary, it might be tempting to think of all those who like to sit on their behinds and let the Martha’s do all the work. They don’t volunteer to serve on committees or go the extra mile. They only do what’s necessary when it suits them. They’re on their phones, or reading books, or binge watching the latest Netflix series.
If this is what we hear in this account of Jesus’ life, then we might interpret the meaning of this story is that all the busy people of this world should slow down, take it easy, and spend some time listening to Jesus. We may also be tempted to think we’re all the good little Mary’s because we’ve stopped our busy lives to come here to listen to Jesus. We may want to criticise the rest of the world which is busy with its many distractions and avoids attending church.
But is this what’s really going on in this reading?
Well, no it’s not!
There’s nothing wrong with being busy. There’s nothing wrong with people who love to welcome, serve, or clean up. There’s nothing wrong with those who serve God’s people by holding various positions in church. There’s nothing wrong with people like Martha welcoming Jesus and his followers into her home. If only more people would do some of these things!
So, take careful note: Jesus never criticised Martha for all her hospitality and service! He never criticised her for her busyness.
But Jesus did criticise her because she was worried and upset.
And suddenly we have the key to understanding what’s really going on here!
The difference between the two women wasn’t between busyness and laziness. It was between someone who was worried and upset which distracted her from spending time with Jesus, and someone who chose to listen to Jesus.
This might change who each of us think we are in this story. It’s no longer about how busy we all are, but about how worried and anxious we all are.
In this case, like it or not, many of us are anxious and troubled by many things. We’re often distracted and worried about so many things which too often take us away from listening to Jesus.
Now, of course things still need to get done, and being concerned about people and time-schedules and tasks and priorities isn’t always a bad thing; in fact, it can be a good thing. But it doesn’t take much for our concerns or our worries to become our master.
Our worries and concerns become our master when we demand people attend to our own worries and concerns. Our worries and concerns become our master when we allow our own fears to restrict who we’ll love or serve or associate with. Our worries and concerns become our master when our love and service toward others becomes a hated chore.
Since we can only serve one master at a time, when our worries and concerns become our master, then Jesus isn’t our Lord and master. We’re no longer listening to Jesus’ promises of forgiveness, mercy, peace and love, because we’re instead listening to all our anxieties, insecurities, and fears.
Whenever our self-centred fears or selfish desires or misplaced trusts in our own self-interested ways rule over us, we sin against the First Commandment. Instead of fearing, loving, and trusting God, we fear what others think of us, desire or expect praise for our willing service, and probably trust we’re the only ones who can do it properly.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there because our misplaced fears and trust has side-effects, and so we often break every other Commandment as we sin against those around us through our disrespect, neglect, misplaced judgments, murderous thoughts, careless words, or resentful grumbling.
Whenever fears, worries, and other anxious distractions rule over us, we’re robbed of joy and peace and security. In turn, we also seek to steal it from those around us through our demands for them to take notice of us and attend to our worries and concerns!
This showed up in today’s reading when Martha judged and criticised her sister for not helping her with what she considered more important at the time. Not only this, but she also criticised Jesus for not encouraging Mary to get up off her behind and help Martha with everything she considered to be so important in her own life!
Even though her intentions may have been good, she judged Jesus and Mary incorrectly and missed the more important opportunity she had to listen to Jesus who would have assured her he was the answer to all her fears and anxieties.
You see, the Lord knows there’s a time and place for everything. He knows there’s a time to work and a time to play; a time to serve and a time to be served. He knows many of those things she was worried about are important, needed, and helpful, in fact so much so, Jesus didn’t criticise her for her willing service or frantic efforts.
Her busyness wasn’t wasted, but he knew her worries and concerns had become her master, which led her to sin against Jesus and Mary because of the way she judged them.
The opportunity before her (which was more important than the tasks of running a household), was the Lord of life and hope and forgiveness and peace and joy was here in her own house.
He wasn’t going to be there for long. While her work wasn’t going away, he was. His face was still set toward Jerusalem where he would suffer and die for her and all people. Sure, there’s a time for everything, but because of the task ahead, his time was now short. Mary had chosen the better portion of his time with them.
Many people throughout all of history, including you and me, would long to have the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary and see and hear our Lord and Saviour with our own eyes and ears, even for a few precious moments. Many of us long to see our Lord and Redeemer in the flesh so we may hear him clearly speak his words of grace, forgiveness, and wisdom with our own ears!
But, despite this wonderful desire, would all of us truly choose to sit at Jesus’ feet so he could serve us and speak to us, or are we still worried and distracted by many things, such as our commitments at work or home, or watching the latest TV show, or sleeping in, or spending time at the beach or lake, or fiddling around in our shed or kitchen or garden, or checking out what’s happening on Facebook or Snapchat, or some other seemingly ‘important’ priority?
Aren’t we all tempted to do all these things instead of spending time with Jesus and his words during the week for our devotions?
Now of course some of these things are important and helpful for us and those around us, but as selfish and self-centred humans we’re often tempted to allow so many less important things, including our worries and concerns, crowd out the one necessary thing: spending time with Jesus so we may hear how he answers our fears and anxieties through his words of forgiveness, love, healing, security, life, and salvation.
For example, today Jesus tells you you’re forgiven. You’re forgiven for all those times you became so distracted by earthly worries and desires that you neglected to listen to him in your devotions.
You’re forgiven for criticising others for not helping you. You’re forgiven for being lazy and not helping when you should have. You’re forgiven for being distracted from fearing, loving, and trusting God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength by allowing your fears, worries, and desires to become your master.
You’re forgiven because Jesus went to Jerusalem to pay the full blood-price for all your sin. For every Martha among you who’s so worried and distracted by so many tasks, he tells you the most important work is already done when he said: ‘It is finished!’ Nothing you do or say can make God love you any more or any less.
You’re also made whole because he was fully obedient to fulfil the laws of completely fearing, loving, and trusting God on your behalf. He gives you his perfection and holiness through baptism and faith.
He tells you to come to him and rest in his promises. Then, when it’s time to work again, he doesn’t ask you to take on all your own worries and concerns once more, but he asks you to serve alongside him. In this way, instead of you attempting to bend the Lord and those around you to your own selfish will, you pray the Holy Spirit would align you to the will of God.
Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and he serves you through telling you all his work has been completed before, during, and after his death on the cross. He still serves you today and you listen to him and his words of wisdom, forgiveness, promise, and peace. He still serves to take away your fears and anxieties as you learn to trust him more and more. He still serves to strengthen your trust in him as you receive his body and blood through faith.
Martha was worried and upset over many things. In the same way, many of you may be worried and upset over many things.
May you all long to be more like Mary and consider the one necessary thing for you to do is to sit at your Lord’s feet in worship and during your daily devotions. As you do so, he’ll serve you by taking away all your fears, anxieties, worries, distractions, shame, and guilt.
In this way, as you listen and learn from Jesus, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.