Summary: Sometimes we get so busy for the Lord that we lose what is most important: that quiet time before the Lord. Mary and Martha show us a contrast in devotion and distraction, and challenge us to keep Christ first.
Devoted or Distracted?
My internet went out Friday, so I went through all the troubleshooting. And then it asked me, “Do you want me to reboot the router?” And I hit the “yes” button. By all means, reboot the router, if that will reconnect me with the information superhighway. And then it came back and said, “Please wait.” I don’t like to wait.
I got to the parking garage at work Wednesday. I was running a little close to start time. I parked, ran down to the crosswalk, and pushed the button. A mechanical voice said, “Wait!” I pushed it again. It said, “Wait!” I tried a third time, and a third time it said, “Wait!” I don’t like to wait.
I am wired for activity. If I’m in a traffic jam, I’ll try every back road I can find, and it usually adds time to my route in the long run. But I hold onto the adage, “Any movement is good movement, even if it’s going further away from your objective.”
And yet a still small voice breaks into my life every now and then and says, “Wait on me, Kerry. Slow down. Listen. Orient your life on me. And you may find that you get done more of the truly important when you put me first.”
In today’s story, Jesus interacts with two sisters very different from each other. How often does that happen among siblings? Martha gets the bad rap of being a busy-body while Mary is remembered as the devoted one. Sometimes people see Martha as practical and Mary as spiritual, and since Jesus favors Mary, they think spiritual must trump practical every time.
But that’s a bit of a simplification. What about when practical IS spiritual? After all, doesn’t it please God when you are a good host to your guests? Hospitality is a big deal in the Bible. And here Martha is hosting Jesus and his disciples. That’s a big deal! If you were preparing a meal for Jesus, wouldn’t that be considered spiritual? The word for “preparations” or “serving” in verse 40 is the same Greek word from which we get our word “deacon,” which means “servant.” It’s a godly thing to serve, so much so that the early church created an office of servers to meet the needs of widows. Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). So what’s wrong with Martha serving?
A clue might be the word “distracted.” Martha was “distracted by many things” (verse 40). The Greek word suggests dragging many things around. Jesus told her she was worried or upset about lots of things (verse 41). Martha was stressed out!
Have you ever been there? There’s so much to do, and it’s all important, and you know you’re never going to get it all done. It’s very upsetting, very frustrating. And yet Jesus says, “Why do you worry about so many things? There’s only one thing that really matters, and it’s me. Just come and sit at my feet for a while.”
And that’s where Mary was; in this story, and in the other two places in scripture we see her mentioned (John 11:32; John 12:3): she is always at the feet of Jesus. She had a heart of devotion and seeking out God.
There at Jesus’ feet, she was carrying out the role of a disciple, a follower, a student. Students often gathered at their rabbi’s feet, listening to every word, taking in the wisdom. Kind of like today, sitting in the front row of class. The only thing is, in Jesus’ day only men were students! Jesus is absolutely counter-cultural here in permitting and even reinforcing Mary to be a student. In Jesus’ day, women only learned from their father or husband, and always in the privacy of their own homes. They never dared to learn directly from a rabbi, as Mary is here with Jesus.
This is a hallmark of Luke’s gospel. In the Sunday afternoon Bible study, we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark, and seeing how Mark focuses on the suffering servant role of Jesus. Well, Luke focuses on how the gospel is for everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, sin, etc. Jesus came for everyone who would believe. In last week’s passage, Jesus told a story where the Samaritan—an outsider—was the hero. This week, a female student is the hero. Unheard of in Jesus’ day! Who will be next?
Yet this story is much more than gender issues and breaking down walls of prejudice. It’s really a story for anyone who wants to follow Jesus, anyone who professes to be a Christian believer. It’s about devotion or distraction. It’s about choosing our own busyness or focusing on the Lord’s business.
And here’s the thing: it’s not as simple as right vs. wrong. Both Mary and Martha were doing good things. It’s good to study at Jesus’ feet. And it’s good to serve Jesus and his disciples and meet their physical needs. Those are both good things!