Text: Luke 10:38-42
I’d like you to imagine that you are visiting Bethany in the latter part of the 1st century AD. Hoping to find some lodging for the night, you find a house with a little sign outside: “Visitors always welcome.” You knock on the door. An elderly but sprightly lady appears. “Come in, come in!” she urges with a welcoming smile. “You look very hot and tired – would you like to visit the bathroom to freshen up? And while you do that, I’ll put the kettle on. Now, what would can I get you to eat?”
Woman: “Did you know that the 12 apostles used to visit this home? That’s right. Simon Peter, John, James, Judas Iscariot – they’ve all been here. And, of course, Jesus himself.”
Visitor: “Jesus? Jesus Christ? Did he used to come to this house?”
Woman: “Oh, yes. He loved coming here. He was very fond of my brother, my sister Mary and me. I remember one time especially when they were all here together…”
Visitor: “Tell me about it. What did Jesus say? Did he talk about the kingdom of God? Did he tell how the scriptures were being fulfilled in him? Did he explain that he must go up to Jerusalem to be killed and then be raised to life again? It must have been awesome to actually sit at his feet and be taught by him in person. What did he talk about when he was here in this house?”
Woman: “That’s the sad thing about it. I havn’t got a clue what he talked about. I was so busy in the kitchen, that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I wanted to serve the master in a really special way. So there was me, rushing around like a headless chicken, while my sister was just sitting there at his feet, listening to him. It all got a bit too much for me. I marched in, and I’m afraid to say that I gave the Master a piece of my mind. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” You should have seen the look on his face!
Visitor: “Why, was he angry?”
Woman: “Oh, no, not angry. He just looked so…concerned. ‘”Martha, Martha,” he said to me, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
Visitor: “What did he mean, ‘only one thing is needed?'”
Woman: “Well, I think he meant that only one thing really matters compared with all the stuff that I was worrying about. And, I’m sorry to say, he obviously thought that Mary had got her priorities right and I had got mine wrong.”
Visitor: “How come?”
Woman: “Well, he said something like, ‘You’re spending all your time preparing this wonderful meal for us, but Mary has chosen the dish of the day.'” I had been honouring Jesus the way I wanted by making a perfect meal for him. My sister honoured him the way he wanted, by nourishing her soul with spiritual food.
Visitor: “I still don’t get it. Somebody has to prepare the food and do the dishes!”
Woman: “Yes, of course, but not to fuss over it so much that we forget to sit at his feet and attend to what he is saying. Havn’t you read in Scripture, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’? I had allowed myself to be distracted from feeding on the word of God. Again, don’t you remember the words of the Master himself, ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’. The best meal that I could prepare would go mouldy within a couple of days, but what Jesus feeds us with will last for ever. Then again, Jesus said, ‘I have come, not to be served but to serve.’ The most important thing is not what we can do for the Lord, but what he can do for us. To feed on Christ in our hearts by faith; to attend to his words; to reflect on his wonderful deeds; to come to God through him in prayer; to model our lives on his life, as far as we are able. We are disciples of Christ first, and workers for Christ second.
Visitor: “But you’re not saying that practical things like hospitality are wrong?”
Woman: “Oh, no, far from it. Hospitality is a gift of God’s grace, just like many other practical things such as helping and encouraging and craftmanship and leadership and administration. My problem was not that I served – we can’t do too much of that – but that I was ‘distracted’ by it. You know how it is in some families: a mother can be so engrossed in the practicalities of child care, that she neglects to listen to her children or talk to them. A father can be so taken up with earning money to support his family, that he’s too tired to spend any ‘quality time’ with them. Its just so with followers of Jesus Christ. You can be so preoccupied with doing things for Christ that you neglect to spend time with him. Whatever our area of service is – whether its hospitality, teaching, music, administration, encouragement, evangelism – we should never allow service to the Lord to distract us from fellowship with him.”
Visitor: “It’s not easy, though, for a practical person to do this, when there are so many jobs to be done, so many needs to be met?”
Woman: “No, it’s not always easy. But I realised that Jesus was right, and that I mustn’t let my practical service become an excuse for neglecting my soul. There are many Marthas around – and some of them may be a little bit proud that they are Marthas and not Marys – who may need to make a special effort to organise their lives so that they can attend to the Lord properly. It may be wise to set time aside on a daily and weekly basis when other activities can be put to one side so that we can do so. Perhaps some some of us have got out of the habit of having a time each day when we can read Scripture and pray. Perhaps others are allowing perfectly reasonable activities to get in the way of meeting together regularly on Sundays. Maybe some of us need to encouragement that others could give by asking us about our personal relationship with Jesus. We could do this after church services, in small groups, or just over a cup of coffee.”
Visitor: “Look, it’s getting late and you must be rather tired. I have a few lines here that may help you to remember what we’ve talked about.
Occupied for Jesus with her pots and pans.
Loving Him, yet fevered, burdened to the brim,
Careful, troubled Martha, occupied for Him.
Mary on the footstool, eyes upon her Lord,
Occupied with Jesus, drinking in His word.
This one thing was needful, all else strangely dim;
Loving, listening Mary, occupied with Him.
So may we, like Mary, choose the better part:
Resting in His presence, hands and feet and heart;
Drinking in His wisdom, strengthened by His grace;
Waiting for the summons, eyes upon His face.
When it comes, we’re ready, spirit, will, and nerve;
Mary’s heart to worship, Martha’s hand to serve;
This the rightful order, as our lamps we trim:
Occupied WITH Jesus, then occupied FOR Him!”‘
You make your way to the guest room. But before you turn in you decide to do two things. The first thing is to see if the Bible records anything that Martha said or did after this little incident. How effectively did she learn her lesson? Yes – there it is, in John chapter 11: two amazing things that Martha said, that showed just how closely she had learned to attend to Jesus. Her brother Lazarus had died four days earlier. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Then Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” These are two are most of the remarkable confessions of faith ever recorded, and they come from the lips of Martha. Then you look ahead to John 12:2, and, guess what? She is still serving meals.
The second thing you do is talk to the Lord about you’ve learned from Martha. “Lord, I confess that I have too often allowed time spent for you to distract me from time I might have spent with you. I have taken care of other people’s vineyards, but my own vineyard I have neglected. I dedicate myself right now to the duty, privilege and joy of knowing you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”