We are looking at Luke 10:38-42, which tells the familiar story of Martha and Mary and a dinner party.
This story has a lot to say, from several different angles. But I would like for us to be pretty specific in our focus. And that focus is what this story has to say aboutsetting aside our frantic pace of life in order to have time to be with Jesus.
Let’s begin by working our way through –
v. 38 – “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”
As Jesus and his disciples traveled around Israel, they were at various times taken in and given hospitality by those in the villages where they ministered. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:8, giving instructions to his disciples. He says, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”
To welcome Jesus or his disciples was a sign of acceptance of the message of the kingdom of God, which is what they were preaching. To receive the messenger is to receive the message. So this verse shows us that Martha is a supporter of Jesus. She is doing a good thing, welcoming him into her home.
v. 39 says, “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
So Jesus has come into the house and here we see Mary learning from him.
Now, to sit at a teacher’s feet was the position of a disciple, or a student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3). So, this was quite unusual for that day. That is, that Mary, a woman, takes up the position of a disciple who learns from a master teacher. This was reserved for men.
The Mishnah, an ancient collection of Jewish teaching says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.” So again, sitting at the feet of a teacher is the position of a disciple. But then it goes on to say just after this, “but talk not much with womankind.” (M ‘Abot 1:4;5).
In contrast to this, here, Jesus welcomes Mary as a woman disciple (as he does with other women in other places). And even though Martha, as we will see, tries to force her back into the traditional domestic role that women filled in that day – Jesus does not allow it.
We could say more on this part of the story, but our focus for today is on Mary as one who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
v. 40 goes on, “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.’”
The portrait that we have here shows that Martha is very busy serving. And this is understandable given that the disciples were probably also in her home. She has quite a crew to feed and take care of. She is, no doubt, trying to keep up with the social expectations of the day for how you treat honored guests. And hospitality was a much bigger deal in ancient culture than it is in our day.
The word – “distracted” means “being pulled away” by something; to be overburdened with a matter. She was overburdened with all the work she had to do.
And this causes her to complain to Jesus – ‘Mary should be helping me with all this work! Tell her to get busy!’
vs. 41-42 end the story, “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.’”
Here Jesus also takes note of Martha’a busyness. He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.” But instead of rebuking Mary, as Martha wanted, he gently admonishes her. He teaches her that there is one thing that is necessary. What is this one thing? It is the “good portion” that Mary has chosen – sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching.
This story gives us a lesson in priorities. Serving the needs of others is good, but listening to and learning from Jesus is better. Now, there is a time and place for both, and we are to do both. But here Martha has given higher priority to service, rather than listening to Jesus. This is her mistake.
Let’s step back now and look at the big picture. We have here –
Two sisters, who represent two approaches to Jesus
We have Martha who is busy. She is doing a good thing, but she has become overwhelmed by it all and her busyness produces some negative results:
- She becomes self-focused. Even though she is trying to serve others it comes back to her. ‘Jesus don’t you care about me? All the work I am doing by myself?’ You can see it in the pronouns – “Me, me, me.”
- She demands from Jesus, telling him what he should say. ‘Tell my sister to help me.’ Fix my problem with all this busyness that I have going on.
In contrast we have Mary who is not busy. She is not overwhelmed. And this bears forth good results:
- She is focused on Jesus. She is able to give Jesus her attention. Indeed she probably had forgotten all that needed to be done, because of her single-minded focus on listening to Jesus and soaking in his presence.
- She listens to what Jesus wants to say. Not telling him what he should be saying from her perspective. But listening to what he wants to teach.
I share all this with you today because, I think –
We are very much like Martha
1. We are “anxious and troubled about many things.” As Americans we value producing things; getting things done. We don’t value rest, calm, or being still. At least not as much. We always want to be doing things; things that produce results in a tangible or an economic way.
- And so we are always busy with activities. There is always something going on, or better, multiple things going on which we have to choose between, or try to do both. Multi-tasking is standard fare now. These activities are connected to family, kids, work, school, our various social commitments, including church; a constant barrage of events.
- We are busy going places. All of these activities require time spent traveling. We are always on the move.
- We have busy minds. This has to do with keeping all of our commitments and schedules together, plus all that we take in from TV, radio and the internet. We are always plugged in. We become saturated with information, which leaves our minds spinning to try to process it all.
We are indeed “anxious and troubled about many things.” And we become “distracted” by all this from focusing on Jesus himself.
2. These are good things we are doing. It’s not like we are out wasting our time, being frivolous or useless or worse. Beyond what others may do, we also give our time to serve Jesus to work in the church and to serve the needs of people.
Again, just like Martha who was welcoming Jesus into her house, we are doing what is laudable; what is commendable. But . . .
3. The result of all our busyness is not good. Besides stress, sleeplessness, headaches and other physical symptoms – we become like Martha; we get overwhelmed, so that like her:
- We can become self-centered; only seeing what we have to do in the swirl of our activity and in our world. Even when we are trying to serve others. And we also try to include others in our busyness so that they are now anxious and troubled, like Martha tried to do with Mary. Our busyness and anxiety is contagious.
- We can become demanding of the Lord. We are too busy, but instead of fixing the problem of our over-committed lives by making better choices, we want the Lord to compensate for us to make things all work out right. ‘Lord, fix this!’ We actually pray this way. We don’t act to fix the problem, we just want help to sustain or even increase our ability to be busy.
Instead of all this –
We must learn to be like Mary
She had her priorities straight. Out of all the things that she could have been doing, and by social expectation should have been doing –
- she “chose the good portion” – v. 42
- she got “the one thing” that is “necessary” – v. 42
She “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” – v. 39. She spent time in the Lord’s presence and just took it in.
Be honest. How often in the busyness of your life do you truly sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching? Where you enter into the Lord’s presence and learn his way? Is there time in your busy schedule? When there is a small bit of time are you really there, or still busy of mind?
This is a question of priorities. As good as all that you are doing may be, nothing is more important than being with the Lord and learning from him.
If you don’t have time to sit at Jesus feet, then you need to reevaluate your life, because your priorities are out of order. To say it simply – if you are too busy for Jesus, you are too busy!
May we all learn from Mary’s example and Jesus’ teaching and act to make things right. So that we make the hard choices we need to make to spend time with Jesus.