Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”
This is a familiar story for us ladies, but I would like for us to consider a few new thoughts as we look at it this morning. First, this narrative was never intended to be reduced to a rivalry between the Marys and the Marthas in the church. When we study this we typically simply say “Are you a Martha?” – The worker bee or “Are you a Mary?” – The contemplative prayerful sitter; Martha bad – Mary good!
Also, this narrative was not intended to be only about busy women in the church – the underlying truths are not gender specific, the truths revealed are for everyone. Additionally, I think the narrative also applies to the seasons in our life, for example when we are in the midst of our busy lives, starting careers or we have children at home – we all seem like Martha, then when we are older and have more quiet time or when we are limited by our energy or health – we all seem like Mary.
Last, this narrative directly follows the parable of the Good Samaritan, which ends with Jesus saying to his disciples and the expert in the law – “Go and do likewise”
Martha was doing likewise; she was busy doing what needed to be done. What I want us to notice is that Jesus identifies Martha’s real problem, she was distracted by the preparations – she was worrying about the many things of life, then by the time she speaks to Jesus she is exasperated and demands that Jesus send Mary to help her!
When Martha complains to Jesus, He sees through her hurt and harsh words to the heart of the problem. “Martha, Martha you are troubled about many things”. Jesus isn’t criticizing her for her good works, but he is concerned that she is anxious and troubled – worrying about the things of life. We should also note that Martha wasn’t the only one who was worried in this group; later the disciples try to discourage Jesus from going to Jerusalem because they too were worried about the plots to kill Jesus.
Notice too that Jesus wasn’t commending Mary for her lack of action, He was commending her for being a disciple, for listening and learning – Listening and Learning are important! This should be our priority.
Jesus was inviting Martha to move from being distracted to be attentive to Him. When we busy ourselves out of fear or anxiety – we become too busy to listen and learn. When we are troubled about many things – they crowd out what is most important. Jesus was inviting Martha to reconsider what is really important, to realign her priorities to what is of first importance. I think we can see that Jesus’ words to Martha are an invitation rather than a rebuke.
Mary wasn’t worried about “all these things” like Martha, she was hanging on every word from Jesus and she was very bold to sit at his feet, the place traditionally reserved for male disciples. Mary broke through the barriers in life to listen and learn at Jesus feet. Like the woman who risked rejection just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment in order to be healed. They both risked rejection, they boldly put aside the worries and troubles of that day and were both commended by our Savior.
When Donna came into our fellowship it was easy to see that she had a heart like Mary; Donna took every opportunity to study and hear God’s Word and to sit at Jesus’ feet. She would often say to me that she was sorry she couldn’t do more, but what I observed was that in this season of her life Jesus allowed her the great privilege to sit, to meditate study and pray at Jesus’ feet. She was a disciple who was listening and learning. Donna delighted in our JOY of Living bible study group, often when we were engaged in discussion she would quote from memory scripture that we should remember and consider. She was a disciple who learned, listened and remembered the goodness of God.
Later Martha, who as we have noted is best known as being too busy to sit down and talk with Jesus, is revealed as a woman of deep faith in the Gospel of John. Martha, Mary and Lazarus are at home in Bethany when Lazarus becomes very sick, they send a message to Jesus asking him to come quickly saying, “The one you love is sick”. Now, Jesus was not that far away and we remember that Jesus has already demonstrated that he has the power to heal the sick and raise the dead. In Luke 7 – Jesus raises to life the dead son of the widow of Nain when he sees the funeral procession. In Mark 5 – Jesus brings back to life the daughter of Jarius’ from a great distance. But this time Jesus stays where he was for two more days. By the time Jesus arrives at Bethany Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days.
This time Martha runs to meet Jesus while Mary sits in the house. Martha expresses her great faith saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will grant you.” Lazarus’ death meant more than grief and sorrow to the sisters, he was their source of their financial security – even though he was young he was the male heir. Additionally, we are told of the great love Jesus had for this family. The gossip among the mourners was negative, some of them said, “This is the man who caused the blind man to see! Couldn’t he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus replied, “Your brother will come back to life again.” Martha said, “I know that he will come back to life again in the resurrection at the last day.” Martha considers Jesus’ words as a customary statement of comfort in her mourning, but is she again worried about many things? – I would be.
Then Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world.” John 11:25-26
Jesus responds to Martha’s grief with profound truth and powerful action by demonstrating his great love for this family and His great love for each one of us. Note it is not just time for grief and comfort – but time for action – go and do likewise. In this resurrection from the dead Jesus demonstrates what God will do for us. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead because Jesus is the RESSURECTION! Jesus is the LIFE that gives us hope, He is “the way the truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through the Son”, Jesus. Our HOPE is the same as Donna’s HOPE. Our HOPE was forever guaranteed when Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. If death could not hold Jesus, then neither will it stand between us and our Savior. Our hope of life beyond the grave is grounded on Jesus’ promise, and His promise is certain because of His power over death and the grave.
At this time of the year, I would like to challenge us to think like Mary even when we need to act like Martha. Do not become so busy worrying about the things of life, our grief and our to-do list, to be distracted from heart of God. Be a disciple of Jesus, listen and learn from Jesus and go and do likewise. Jesus’s words to Martha are the same to us “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die”.
Jesus says to us what he said to Martha – Do you believe this?
I will end with the Lyrics of a praise song we sang on Sunday, it reminded me of Donna and her life of being a disciple of Jesus –
From O Come to the Altar, by Elevation Worship
Are you hurting and broken within?
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin?
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself?
Do you thirst for a drink from the well?
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes, a new life is born
Jesus is calling
O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ
Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today, there’s no reason to wait