5th Apr, 2019 Day 95
Mary and Martha
The gospel of Luke is the story of Jesus heading towards Jerusalem to die for us and rise again. It’s written as a series of journeys that include meals. Each meal unfolds a bit more of the gospel. There’s some strange teaching going round now where people say the teaching of the Gospel is just for the period between Jesus’ birth and His death and that what Jesus taught is not for us, it’s for Jews (and maybe Gentiles) in the time before the cross, to become followers of Christ. That is of course nonsense. The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke in around AD80, nearly 50 years after the cross, as a result of him interviewing as many eye-witnesses as possible. It was intended to help early churches and is totally applicable for us. Of course as we read Jesus’ words we can see how he challenges the proud religious leaders with the law to show them they need grace; and the humble masses with grace!
At each of the meals with Jesus in Luke we learn something of Jesus challenging the community of God – the church, The Gateway Church, to fulfill its basic identity as a people called, assembled and sent by Jesus. At the first two meals Jesus and the disciples were guests at dinner parties and at the third Jesus and the disciples showed miraculous hospitality to 5,000 people. We learn that the Kingdom of God is a feast, entered by repentance; that forgiven people are reconciled to each other and that we are on an impossible mission made possible by trusting in God.
Now we come to a second set of meals where Jesus is very definitely heading towards Jerusalem:
- He enjoys hospitality in the home of a woman named Martha in today’s passage 10:38
- He goes to a symposium/dinner party in the home of a Pharisee in chapter 11;
- Another Symposium style dinner part in the home of a leading Pharisee in chapter 14; and then
- Enjoys hospitality in the home of a chief tax collector Zaccheus in chapter 19.
Each of those 4 meals reflect different situations in the daily life of the church and at each at least one issue is raised and addressed prophetically by Jesus – so they are hugely relevant to us today.
Today we are going to see two things at Martha’s house – so let’s read the passage together – Luke 10:38-42.
The first minor thing to note is that we know Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in Bethany, but that is too close to Jerusalem so really this story is later in time. But Luke has placed it here to alert us to something about Jesus’ mission and ministry, which will become clear later.
The fact that it was Martha welcoming Jesus and not Lazarus, tells us a lot. Ordinarily it would be man who welcomes a man into a man’s home, not a woman into a woman’s home. In Acts, Paul is welcomed by Lydia in Thyatira – who gets saved and added into the church plant. The gospel reverses many of the traditional values of the time.
One of the issues here is not the fact that Martha is annoyed that Mary is not in the kitchen with her. It is not that they are both romantically attracted to Jesus and she is jealous of Mary sitting at his feet. No the real problem is that Mary is behaving as if she was a man. In those days houses were usually divided into male areas and female areas. The public room would be where the men would meet – the kitchen belonged to the women. The children played outside. The marriage bedroom was the place where male and female mixed. For a woman to sit down comfortably among the men was bordering on scandalous. It was not just superiority and inferiority between sexes but also the appropriate division of two halves of humanity in those days.
Sitting at the feet of a teacher was also a male thing. It’s not a literal puppy dog posture. When Saul of Tarsus sat at the feet of Gamaliel, Acts 22:23 – he was not just gazing up adoringly and thinking what a great Rabbi Gamaliel was. He was listening, and learning from the teacher. To sit at someone’s feet is to be their student – you sat at the feet of a Rabbi if you wanted to become a Rabbi yourself. So Mary is taking her place as a student and disciple of Jesus.
Jesus affirms her for doing so. This isn’t modern western feminism as such. This is Jesus loving all human beings, not on abstract egalitarian ideals, but because He loves people and He breaks the banks with his love, watering previously barren and unfruitful soil.
It was extraordinary for Martha to welcome Jesus into her home. It was also quite extraordinary for Mary, a woman to be a disciple – we’ve already had a traitorous tax collector welcomed into the kingdom, a sinful woman who turned up at Simon’s house, the Gerasene demoniac – a Gentile demonised person who worked with pigs – triple yuk then! Now we see a woman, Mary, at Jesus’ feet! Becoming His student, His disciple. Men and women are welcome in the Kingdom. Dirty rotten stinking sinners are welcome. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, black and white for all are precious in His sight.
“The one thing” of v. 42 is the main thing though. The trouble with the story of Mary and Martha is that some people use it as an excuse to not serve at all – ‘I’m a worshipper, that’s the one thing God wants me to do. I’ll let the others serve.’ I said earlier that this story set in the village of Bethany has been placed earlier in the narrative than it should have been if Luke was telling a chronological story. He’s placed it deliberately after the parable of the good Samaritan.
The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us a lot about the Christian life — we are to show mercy to others whenever the opportunity is before us, and seek out opportunities to do good and serve. We are to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), just as the Samaritan did. This is what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). But we could mis-apply that by allowing true service to transform into mere busyness. This is what we see with Mary and Martha. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (v. 39). Martha, on the other hand, “was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). When Martha asked Jesus to rebuke Mary and help her serve, Jesus said “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” (vv. 41-42).
The ‘Good Samaritan’ parable was to begin to illustrate Jesus’ summary of the OT revelation of the law – Love God and Love your neighbour. The Good Samaritan helps us grasp loving our neighbour, but Jesus doesn’t want that to be the sum total of our lives. The story of Mary and Martha shows us that we are to love God and His presence first and out of that flows service and ministry and mission.
The lesson: Do indeed be radical in doing good, just like the Good Samaritan (v. 37). But don’t take this to mean that you should be scrambling around frantically, over-committing yourself and becoming over busy. We ought to sacrifice and endure hardship. But don’t let your service to others distract you from the ultimate reason for your service, which is Jesus himself. Serve, but don’t be frantic. Sacrifice and go out of your way, but don’t neglect devoted time of worship and prayer, and reading the Bible. The point of seeing these things together here in Luke 10 is that there is enough time for both. Don’t let your service turn into frenetic anxiety.
So that’s why we have the phrase “passionately pursuing God” in our vision statement – our mission isn’t just drawing people in, sending people out, resulting in church planting in the region and the re-evangelisation of Northern Europe. That flows out of our passionate pursuit of God’s presence and His Word.
It’s not active or contemplative – they flow from each other! So that’s why we passionately pursue God in worship. When I visit other churches often the worship is a bit stop start – a sort of modern hymn prayer sandwich – with a song and then a welcome, then a song or two and then an item, then another song… We passionately pursue God in worship.
The story of Mary and Martha, and where it fits in the story line, shows us it’s not either/or. It’s not passionately pursuing God’s presence and word or serving – it’s both! The passionate pursuit energises the service and the service creates more worshippers to join the passionate pursuit. Galatians 6:9 tells us “don’t get weary in doing good”. Mary and Martha show us that a lot of the weariness, anxiety and worry comes because we’ve forgotten, in the busyness, the “one thing” – worship, presence and word.
If you are weary of doing good, take some rest and enjoy the presence of God. If you are lazy, get up and do something!