Have you ever wondered how Jesus and His disciples spent their evenings? Where did they eat and sleep? I think they did a lot camping. After all, Jesus said to a potential follower, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). It sounds to me like most nights were spent out under an open sky around a campfire. Sometimes, though, somebody would welcome Jesus and His disciples to stay in their home. Such was the case in today’s story as we see them in the home of Martha.
Luke begins our episode telling us Jesus and His disciples were “on their way.” This is Luke’s way of reminding us of the story’s context. Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, and rise again to fulfill God’s salvation plan. This is where they were – on the way to Jerusalem – when a woman named Martha opened her home to them.
Now, think about this: thirteen tired and hungry men entering her home for the evening. I’d say Martha was not only hospitable, but generous as well. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable incident took place in her home, as we see in the story. As it turned out, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. It was an unforgettable lesson, which the disciples remembered and Luke passed on.
In my experience, people struggle a bit with this story. I’ve participated in Bible study groups where the argument has been whether Jesus was fair in His response to Martha. Groups have had the tendency to wrestle with the question, Am I a Martha type or a Mary type? What do I need to change? We tend to give Martha very low marks in this story.
I have to confess, though, I kind of like Martha. She speaks her mind! Where would we be without Marthas who serve? As a pastor, I appreciate the Martha types I have been blessed with in my congregation over the years. They really get things done!
Maybe we are being unfair to Martha. After all, hasn’t Jesus just held up service to our neighbors as a kingdom value in the story of the Good Samaritan just right before this little episode?
What do you think? Is this story really dissing Martha? Is it telling us not to be like her – serving Jesus – and instead be like Mary who sat there? I personally I think it’s a shame to play these women against each other. After all, they were both friends of Jesus. They both had excellent qualities in the eyes of Jesus, and I’m sure Mary had as much of a servant spirit as her sister.
So what is the point of this story? Let’s look at it again and see what really happened. After Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, she went all out to put together a lavish meal with all the fixings and get the place looking just right for Him. In Scripture it says, “Though she was distracted by all her preparations . . .” The word “distracted” means her attention was drawn elsewhere; it was not on her guest of honor. She was caught up in busyness to serve Jesus.
I’m reminded of a story Pastor Chuck Swindol wrote in a book entitled, Stress Fractures. “I vividly remember sometime back being caught in the undertow – too many commitments in too few days. It wasn’t long before I was snapping at my wife and our kids, choking down my food at meal times, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable for everyone.
“I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school. She hurriedly began, ‘Daddy, I want to tell you something, and I’ll tell you really fast!’
“Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me. You don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer. ‘Well then, listen more slowly.’”
I think Martha was a bit like Chuck. She was distracted and irritated in her busyness and not listening while her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He is saying. Think about it – Jesus let her sit in and listen and learn like a male, as one of His disciples, which was unheard of for women in those days. It was quite a gift to Mary.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Martha is feeling deserted and is growing more and more irritated with Mary in the midst of her dinner preparations. Can’t you just imagine Martha getting a little noisier out in the kitchen as she bangs things around a little harder, a little louder, sighing and moaning to herself, clearing her throat a little louder than usual to perhaps catch Mary’s attention. But Mary doesn’t budge. She continues to sit there at the feet of Jesus, taking in what He is saying, which angers Martha all the more! Who does she think she is? She doesn’t belong out there with the men, but in here with me working, serving.
Finally, Martha can’t stand it anymore. She storms into the room and has a meltdown in front of everyone. She takes her frustrations out – not on Mary – but on Jesus! “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself! Tell her to help me!” I’d say it had to have put a bit of a damper on things. One could feel the air being sucked right out of the room, I imagine. She kind of spoiled the dinner party, didn’t she. She spoiled it for Mary by embarrassing her, and she spoiled it for the disciples who are now feeling very uncomfortable, like they’d like to run out the door.
You could say she spoiled her relationship with Jesus a bit. She’s upset with Him and blames Him for her unhappiness and irritation. Everyone is just sitting there, staring at her open-mouthed, and then Jesus breaks the silence. He gently responds to her, “Martha, Martha . . .”
I have a daughter named Martha, and my poor Martha has had to hear this line quoted at least a thousand times, I’m sure.
Jesus goes on to describe for Martha what He is observing and the solution as well. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one.” It doesn’t sound like Jesus is unappreciative of Martha’s service. However, He is concerned about the spirit which has developed in her because of the many tasks she has put on herself.
Martha, you are so worked up over all these things. Few things are needed – indeed only one. You are working too hard at your hospitality. It’s overwhelmed you and upset you. Even one dish would be enough. I’m not here to make your life more difficult and anxious. More importantly, I’m here to see you and talk with you. Keep it simple, Martha. Sometimes it is better to keep it simple.
Earlier in this 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus instructs His disciples, who He sends out two by two, to expect little and not be a burden on the households which welcome them. Have few expectations of them. Just eat what they put in front of you, Jesus said. Now He is living those words out in front of His disciples. Sometimes good service can get spoiled by a bad attitude which has developed.
You might be wondering how you can know when you are becoming dangerously overboard with hospitality and serving? Try this one on for size: when what you are doing drives you to distraction – makes you anxious, irritable, upset, judgmental, and difficult to get along with – it could be a good clue that you may be need to simplify things a bit. Serving a lavish meal is a fine thing, but we can tarnish the whole affair when we end up with a bad spirit because of it. It doesn’t do anybody any good.
This story isn’t instructing us to just sit around doing nothing and serve Jesus – the serving is appreciated. Sometimes, however, we need to keep it simple so we can do something even more important, which we see in the next statement of Jesus.
He goes on to say, “Mary has chosen that which is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” She has chosen the better part. What is this better part? It is to grab the opportunity to spend time with Jesus and allow Him to minister to you, to let Him do something in you before you do something for Him. Your soul needs His service, care, and time as He speaks into your life. It is time well spent. Don’t just do, do, do something. Sit there.
Shouldn’t I be serving Jesus? Absolutely! But remember, the One who said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), also said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).
It’s so easy to get caught up in our busyness of serving Jesus and others and not sit with Jesus and let Him serve us. We get worn down by it. It leads to explosions and meltdowns like we see in today’s story. It leads to burn out, broken relationships with others including Jesus, and moral breakdowns. We make bad decisions when we’re so tired. It has the potential to create a troubled and lost soul, out of touch with God and doing life without Him.
How is your soul, your inner person, these days? Are you giving it the attention it needs? While Martha was preparing her banquet, another banquet was already being served by Jesus in her home, which He wanted her to have. She was missing out on His rest for her soul. Are you missing out? Life can get so busy. A banquet awaits you when you spend time with Him, take in His words of grace, love, and wisdom. A feast is prepared for you to enjoy as you worship Him on Sunday with the community of faith, and every day of the week. As you make time to pause, open His word to let Him speak into your life, talk with Him in prayer, praise Him in song.
We learned today, there is nothing wrong with serving. Keep it up; it’s a good thing! We are called to serve in Christ’s name. But we also are reminded in this passage that Jesus came to serve us. He put words to this later on in Luke: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 10:45).
We need precious time with Him. Our souls require us to quiet ourselves in His presence. We need His words of life to comfort, encourage, and guide us. We need to not just always be doing, doing, doing, but to just sit there and enjoy His company with us. Allow Him to put a song in our mouths.
♬”. . . and He walks with me and He talks with me,
and He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever been known.”♪
I want to close this message with a very touching story I read recently. It was written by a fellow pastor named Dan Meyer.
“This past week I stood at a grave side with a small circle of people as we laid to rest one of the great saints of our church. We told stories of how much better our lives were for the chance to know this man. Every one of us knew something of him. None of us knew all. But it was his marriage partner who knew the most. As we walked from the grave, she gave me an envelope containing a personal gift enclosed by a simple note. ‘Please enjoy dinner with your lovely wife,’ the note read. ‘Every minute together is precious.’
My first thought, I confess, was pretty self focused. What splendid timing! Amy and I are coming up on our 22nd wedding anniversary, and I’m going to take her out for a meal with this gift.
Then, as I sat in my car reading the note over again, the deeper significance of those words on the card started to settle in. The woman who had penned them had been with her own spouse on their 22nd anniversary. She been with him on their 32nd anniversary too, and on their 42nd, their 52nd, their 62nd, and their 72nd year of married life. For most of her more than 90 years on this planet she had built her life around the love of this man. She’d raised and buried children with him. She had faced storms and sun shines alike with him. She had soaked in and loved more of his heart, mind, soul, and strength than anyone else on earth. But for her, it was still not quite enough. ‘Please enjoy the opportunity,’ she had urged me with trembling pen, ‘and remember, every minute together is precious.’”
This, my dear friend, is our lesson, which Jesus wants to write upon our hearts today. Remember, every minute together with me is precious.
So don’t just do something, sit there. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer