Summary: Service is being in relationship with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42)
Let us pray: Jesus, be in what I say, and stop me from getting in the way of what you want my sisters and brothers to hear. Help us all to listen to you with our ears, our minds and our hearts, so that your living presence can teach us, renew us and help us to live as children of the Father. Amen.
Let me read today’s gospel again, this time from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message. We’ve all heard this passage a lot of times, so we bring a lot with us to it when we hear it. Peterson’s directness might help us to hear something new in it:
As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course of the meal, and won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, The Message)
What do you notice? Is God offering anything to you? I’m going to read it again, quite slowly. Listen carefully, noticing whether some part of it stands out to you. This isn’t a test – there isn’t a trick here. Listen to God’s word, and hear what is in it for you. [Read]
Is there a word, or a phrase, or a sentence that leaps out at you? At the risk of straining the friendship, I’ll read it one more time. I’m not doing this just to use up time, by the way. Listen to God’s word, and hear what is in it for you. [Read]
Try to remember what God has offered to you. It may be something that speaks to you in your life now, or it might be something that you need to think about and do, or find out more about, or it might be a challenge, or a rebuke. When I read this passage to prepare for today there was a message for me – a loud and clear one. Only one thing is essential…
Luke’s gospel is concerned with one main question. What does it mean to be a servant of Jesus? As we work through Luke’s gospel this year we can keep that in front of us, and ask it each week, like a lens through which we can examine the passages we share.
Last week, if you remember, the Gospel reading was about service. Serving God through serving our fellow human beings – no matter how inconvenient to us, no matter who they are, no matter what their needs are. Serving them because Jesus is our master, and he is the Servant King. We were challenged us to continually ask, who is our neighbour, and following on from that, how can we serve them? That challenge belongs to us as individuals, but also as a body.
So, Luke moves on from what it means to be a servant of Jesus through serving people, to this new thought. And the thought is this: service is not just doing things. Service is being in relationship with Jesus.
I’ve heard lots of sermons on this story. It’s a simple story, but it is actually quite difficult to get a handle on, because it seems so counter-intuitive. It also seems to run against what we just read. Surely doing things in the service of Jesus, in the service of the Kingdom, is enormously important? Surely?
Well, then, what is being said here? Remember – we’re keeping the question ‘what does it mean to be a servant of Jesus’ in front of us, like a lens.
The context of this story is that Jesus is continuing his mission. He is going through Judea teaching people about the Kingdom of God, and calling them to live in the ways of God. At the same time, he is teaching his disciples about what it means to be servants. We’re his disciples, so he is teaching us too. Luke has selected the story of the Good Samaritan before this story, and he includes Jesus’ teaching about prayer next.
This story is, in some ways, at the heart of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship, and about servanthood. Jesus has come to the home of two people he knows, and they’re showing him hospitality. Martha is doing things to make sure everyone is fed, warm and looked after generally – important things, because hospitality to the visitor was a key thing in the culture. Mary is sitting, and listening to Jesus. Martha, not unreasonably you might think, asks Jesus – she doesn’t use his name, by the way, she acknowledges her relationship with him by using the word ‘master’ – she asks Jesus to tell her sister to help. Jesus not only tells Martha that Mary is doing the thing he wants, the much better thing, but he very concisely gets to the root of her problem: Martha is pulled away from Jesus by all she was doing.