Summary: Mary and Martha both knew Jesus, but Mary was doing what was more important. Sometimes, we need to spend time dedicated to God, and away from the fast paced, hectic way of the world.
Distracted, Deaf, and Disturbed
The story from today’s gospel message centers on the actions of two individuals, Martha and Mary. The Apostle John tells us that Martha and Mary were the sisters of Lazarus and very close to Jesus. It’s believed by many that they were part of a wider circle of disciples in addition to the twelve. We usually only think of twelve disciples traveling with and around Jesus during his ministry. But there were others that were also followers of the Lord: Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary and Lazarus were but a few of those additional followers.
We know that Mary and Martha were not strangers to Jesus. In fact, Jesus had been to this house in Bethany before. We also know that the social rules of the day required hospitality. So they invited him to into their home, to prepare a meal, and enjoy time with their friend and teacher.
Martha went to work with preparations of a feast and trying to get everything just right. Jesus sat down and spoke trying to explain how God’s kingdom really was. And Mary took the place of a student. Which was unusual by itself, because during this time, women were not allowed to sit with men and listen to the Rabbis.
Jesus, Mary and Martha, together in a house, but not necessarily focused on the same things. Jesus was focused on teaching, Mary on learning, but Martha had a different focus. Mary chose to worship. Martha chose to serve. But, service without worship has lost its’ focus. Service without love is the wrong attitude. Service instead of worship misses the mark that Jesus set out for us.
Today, I’d like to take a closer look at Martha, and why Mary was focused on what was more important.
Distracted: Too busy to listen to God
First, let’s look at how Martha was distracted.
Houses in Bethany didn’t have a separate kitchen and living spaces. They were one and the same room. So when Jesus spoke, he was speaking to Martha as well as Mary. But, Martha was distracted by her chores, and paying more attention to her labors rather than Jesus’ teachings.
After a while, Martha got irritated that she was doing all the work. She decided that Mary should be helping her rather than loafing around on the floor. You can almost imagine the frustration in her voice. Why was Jesus allowing this? Martha needed help now! Instead of helping her, Jesus explained that Mary was doing the more important thing.
Martha was pulled away from her company, isolated from her friend, and she became entangled in completing her chores. She was engulfed in what she felt needed to be done and paying too little paying attention to her guest. With all the focus of Israel’s society on showing hospitality and being the perfect host, Martha was being a workaholic and paying little attention to the company she was trying to entertain.
ILLUSTRATION: I can think of a similar situation with my Grandmother during the holidays. She would spend all day cooking and preparing the meal both the day before the festive meal, as well as on the holiday itself. Turkey, vegetables, three-bean salad, fresh bread, yams, corn, beans, Jell-O with fruit inside, homemade pie, German pastries and anything else you can think of during this joyful day. She would bend over backwards to ensure all the preparations were made just right, that all the food was beautifully presented and ready for the family to share in. To a lesser degree, she did this same thing with other meals when we visited. But, when we got ready to leave, she felt she hadn’t spent enough time visiting with us. She had spent all of her time working in the kitchen, as hard and fast as she could, while we spent time visiting in the living room with Grandpa. (adopted and adjusted from originally presented by Kipper, Jesse. Make time for what’s important. http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/make-time-for-whats-important-jesse-kipper-sermon-on-people-in-the-gospel-43580.asp)
Martha experienced a similar problem, and we need to be careful to avoid the same thing. For her, it was preparing meals. For us, it could me any of a number of activities. Our society tends to value hard-working employees, and often expects much more than 40 hour week. The hectic nature of the work schedule, bringing kids to band, choir, sports and other events, weekly church worship, Sunday school, church council, the local PTA, various fundraising events and other activities, then top it off with hobbies and family time (when we can fit it in) and we find a hectic life with little room, or energy, to tackle any additional activities. In fact, the pleasure is lost out of many of the efforts that normally we take great joy in. Getting caught up with our work and our other activities can cause us to losing track of what is more important.