Just one thing
Text: Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)
I’m not sure what is like in your home but in mine there is known to be a touch of humour, some may say sarcasm, if the dinner table is set with the best tablecloth, matching crockery and cutlery, nice glasses, etc. “Who’s coming for dinner?”
It’s assumed that the finery is not for the regular members of the household but for visitors. And the person organising the meal is often busy with last minute special touches and can’t be disturbed or distracted all that much. After all, the meal and the time afterwards have to go just right.
Hospitality is a good thing. We should make an effort. However it also can be a pitfall if we find ourselves providing various levels of hospitality depending on the importance of our visitor. It can be easy to offer various levels of hospitality as a type of investment in anticipation of some sort of payback – a good reputation, a favour, a contact made for future use, and so on. What sort of host would you be if Jesus was to come to your home for a meal?
We can understand Martha quite easily. She is familiar to us. She is busy organising a nice evening for her friend – a man she knew to be close to God – a prophet of some kind – a man who had power from God – a teacher whose insights on God thrilled and challenged people – like him or not, Jesus is known and talked about and he’s at her house. She tried to pay attention to what Jesus is talking about but there were too many things to attend to. I suppose, she didn’t want to go down in history as the person who served up a lousy meal to Jesus!
And the whole evening would have been fine – gone off without a hitch – if two people had played their part. If Mary would help with all the organising of the meal then that would be a big help. And if Jesus would leave all his interesting conversation until, say after the meal, when the washing up was down and everyone was relaxing with some after dinner figs, then Martha could enjoy Jesus’ company as well.
Martha’s comment is a shot at both Jesus and Mary – for them both to acknowledge her. Jesus’ comment is gentle to the frazzled hostess. He won’t buy into the line that Mary must help Martha, nor will he accept responsibility for Martha’s frustration. His comment to Martha says a number of things.
1. Martha, you don’t have to impress me.
2. Martha, your frustrations are of your own making because of your own expectations; don’t blame either me or Mary for them.
3. Martha, you chose to listen to my words with one ear at the oven. If Mary listens to me, I will not turn her away.
Jesus was not telling Martha that she shouldn’t have gone to any trouble about the meal. I assume the meal was delicious and Jesus appreciated it. Meals have their place but so does God’s Word and this also is a meal we need as much as food.
John reminds us that Jesus is the Word made flesh who pitches a tent among us and shares his supplies with us. He is the one thing needed and will not be taken away from anyone. That is what
Jesus’ cross testifies. His death brings new life to everyone – the hosts and hostesses of this world and all those who aren’t – maybe they’re hangers-on in some way – but no one is excluded from this new life that Jesus’ achieves through his suffering and death; that he offers through bread and wine as he is both host and meal to us who all want to be noticed in some way.
You see, each of us can suffer from the Martha syndrome. Surely it has to count for something in God’s eyes if I live my life as a good and decent person who comes to church? Why isn’t God impressed with my faithfulness? Such thoughts and questions can lead to certain expectations of God in particular and certain perceptions about the people around us. We can become focused on busyness – being involved in all the organisational and detail parts of life – whether it be home, congregation, work – that we can not have time to read God’s Word, not have time for prayer, be quick to pigeonhole people and treat them accordingly, treat worship as another menu option in a busy life and lose that one thing needful – God’s grace in Christ – his words to us that reminds us that our life is not about impressing him but is about living in the freedom of his love.
Mary’s attitude is the model we should follow. This doesn’t get us out of the dishes or other housework or any other responsibilities! Mary teaches us a simple and yet profound lesson: When Jesus speaks – listen.
When explaining the 3rd Commandment in his Large Catechism to an audience who could have spent a life time visiting sacred shrines and venerating holy relics, Luther said: [For] God’s Word is the holiest of all holy things. In fact, it’s the only one we Christians know and have. Even if we had the bones of all the saints or all sacred, consecrated vestments piled up in front of us, it wouldn’t help us one scrap. They are all dead things and can’t make anyone holy. But God’s Word is the treasure which makes everything holy. Through it all the saints themselves were made holy. Whenever we deal with God’s Word, preach it, hear it, read it, or think it over, we ourselves, the day, and the action are made holy by it, not because of the fine thing we have done on the surface, but because of the Word which turns us all into saints. So I always say that our whole life and actions have to be based on God’s Word, if they are to be pleasing to God or holy. (Trans F Hebart, pp.41,42, §91,92)
In whatever environment – particularly regular worship – but also each day – the truth is the same: When Jesus speaks – listen. Listen to his message of love and discover daily that in every situation of life God is already there for us.
- Luke 10:38 - 42