Summary: If we put Jesus first, then others, and then ourselves, we will be able to spend time at his feet, learning his Word in our lives. Otherwise, we become like Martha in today’s Gospel passage: busy, but not blessed.
Other Scriptural passages:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
Two years ago, on June 28 (2005), four Navy SEAL commandos were on a mission in Afghanistan, searching for a notorious al-Qaeda terrorist leader hiding in a Taliban stronghold.
As the battle ensued, three of the SEALs were killed, and the fourth, Marcus Luttrell was blasted unconscious by a rocket grenade and blown over a cliff. Severely injured, he spent the next four days fighting off six al Qaeda assassins who were sent to finish him, and then crawled for seven miles through the mountains before he was taken in by a Pashtun tribe, who risked everything to protect him from the encircling Taliban killers.
They took Luttrell back to their village, where the law of hospitality, considered “strictly non-negotiable,” took hold. “They were committed to defend me against the Taliban,” Luttrell wrote, “until there was no one left alive.” (Lone Survivor – by Marcus Luttrell)
The Law of Hospitality is very strong in Middle Eastern culture, and has been that way for many millennia. It prompted Abraham in our reading from Genesis today to offer food and drink to his three visitors, the Lord and two angels.
It is what prompted Lot in the next chapter to protect the two angels in his home in Sodom from the men who wanted to rape them. While Lot’s idea of how to protect them is appalling to us — he offers his daughters to the crowd instead — the point is that the Law of Hospitality is so strong that it even supersedes the obligation to protect one’s own family.
So it’s against this backdrop of strong hospitality to visitors that our Gospel passage unfolds.
Jesus and his entourage of at least 12 disciples arrive at Martha and Mary’s doorstep, without phoning ahead or sending an email or even a text message to give Martha a heads up.
When they arrive unannounced, Martha decides that someone as important and holy as Jesus deserves the absolute best she can offer. She searches briefly for a frozen lasagna from Costco’s to put in her microwave oven, and then remembers that none of those things have been invented yet.
So she takes out a jar of freshly ground flour and a jar of oil, and starts preparing some food. She fetches some extra water from the well. And then she decides that a simple meal won’t do, and starts preparing a major feast that isolates her from her guests and causes her to resent the labor she is doing for Jesus.
She decides that the problem is not that she overburdened herself, but rather that her sister is actually sitting in the other room with the Rabbi who came to see them.
Here was a Rabbi who allowed women to sit at his feet! Usually people would sit on chairs or recline on couches, but disciples would sit at their teachers’ feet. They were preparing to become teachers themselves, which was a role not permitted for women at that time. Most Jewish men would have been shocked to see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching.
This was an opportunity to learn from Jesus as his disciple, but instead of joining Mary at Jesus’ feet, and simply bringing some food and drink to sustain them all, she chose to complain that Mary had seized the opportunity to learn.
Can’t you picture Martha, knowing that Jesus would of course agree with her, telling him to show Mary the error of her ways, embarrassing her in front of the other guests? I think she expected Jesus to say something like, “Mary! I didn’t realize you were sitting there! Only my disciples are allowed to sit there! What were you thinking? Get back in the kitchen and help you sister!”
Can you picture Martha’s face when Jesus said that Mary made the correct choice? Now Martha was the one embarrassed. But I also believe she realized what she was doing wrong, changed her meal plans and joined them.
I believe that because in John’s Gospel (12:1–2) Martha prepared a feast for Jesus and his 12 disciples, and her brother and sister, without any complaint. She had discovered that sitting at Jesus’ feet brings not just knowledge, but also God’s peace.
Warren Weirsbe points out that we see Mary of Bethany is three times in the Gospels. Each time, she is in the same place: at the feet of Jesus.
• She sat at his feet and listened to his Word in Luke 10:39;
• She fell at his feet and shared her woe in John 11:32;