A Tale of Two Sisters
There are questions that I imagine all of you have been asked and have probably answered called icebreaker questions. These are designed to be both considered safe, not too invasive questions to ask, while at the same time have the potential to offer a bit of a glimpse into who someone is on the inside. These questions are often asked on a first date, a gathering of a group that doesn’t know each other that well, or even long car rides across the state of Kansas. One of my favorite questions to ask a group of adults is “what was the first car that you drove regularly?” This might not seem like that profound of a question, after all, there is only one right answer and not much critical thinking is involved, but that is what makes it so perfect. You see, while there is only one correct answer per person, what you really have the opportunity to see how much information that person generally shares. For example, one person might answer “a ‘93 Buick Regal”. Short, to the point, answering exactly what was asked and nothing more, and that might be that person’s general mode of operating. Another person might say, “a white ’93 Buick Regal, that car went from 0-60 in what felt like 4 seconds, great acceleration, at least until you got above 60, then it took about 8 seconds to get to 70mph. That was a great car, right up until the end when all the transmission fluid leaked out. The repair shop wondered how I got the car there without it getting towed. Ended up needing to sell her for parts. That type of person you don’t want to ask anything of unless you have the time to spare. One common icebreaker question is “if you could meet anyone famous alive today, who would you want to meet.” This question alludes to your values and what is important to you because it is likely that the person you want to meet is someone that you admire. Now, imagine for a moment that you have been given a chance to have your chosen famous person come to your house. By a show of hands, how many of you would cook for that person? No, unless your chosen person is Gordan Ramsey, and you enjoy being ridiculed, you probably want to talk with and mostly just listen to what this person might share with you of his or her life and the lessons learned. But in our gospel lesson today, Martha doesn’t seem to recognize the value of having Jesus under her roof.
Luke tells us “as they (Jesus and His disciples) went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.” It does not seem that this visit was prearranged, but probably more like when Jesus sent out the 72, finding a random place to stay for a while. Now Martha had a sister called Mary who, while the teacher was there, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Jesus and said, “Lord,” a curious title in this instance because the way Martha seems to address Jesus is not with the full reverence of one who is subject to this so called Lord. She says “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” A question that seems to indicate that the presumed answer is yes. Thus Martha follows it up with an imperative to her so called Lord, “tell her then to help me.” Now Luke in his gospel never mentions Martha prior to this encounter, thus it is quite possible that they had never previously met until Jesus came to her village. So again, either Jesus, like he told the 72, entered Bethany and goes to Martha’s house and when she opened the door said “peace be to this house” and she welcomed him in, or she saw Jesus somewhere else in the town and invited Jesus to come stay with her. In either case, it would seem that she knew who Jesus was, for she addresses him as Lord, and didn’t have the house prepared before inviting him into her house, so I imagine there was a huge scramble upon Jesus’s arrival. Martha knew what was expected of her, as a woman of the household. She was to be in charge of hospitality, making certain that the guests had plenty of food to eat. So she began to serve. Now during that time in history, in a household with a husband and a wife, and perhaps children, the females would serve the guests, while it would be the males who would sit at a great teacher’s feet. There is no mention of a husband for Martha, only a sister, Mary, but it would still be the expected practice of the time that Mary, as a female, would also be helping to serve the guests. Thus Martha’s request is not that outlandish. And Jesus answers her “Martha, Martha,” demonstrating a care for her with a simple double mention of her name, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion,” a bit of play on words as portion is used to refer to also a helping of food, like Martha was serving. “Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus properly identifies that Martha is anxious. The text doesn’t elaborate on the specifics of her stress, but I imagine that if you have just offered to host someone as important as Jesus unexpectedly, you might be a bit stressed out trying to be hospitable and tend to the accommodations. Add to that if you are expecting someone else to help with the efforts to be done and they do nothing to help out. I know that I have frustrated my wife during times where she is working to have the house clean before guests arrive and I am at that time doing nonscience on my phone. It can be very frustrating when you feel like you are the only one working toward an important goal. But Jesus doesn’t suggest that the serving which Martha does is what is wrong, but rather her attitude and disposition to serving. Perhaps Luke in choosing to add this event, to his orderly account of the things that have been taught, relates to Jesus’s teaching in the parable of the sower, where Jesus explains that the seed that fell among the thorns are those who hear the word of God but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. It is easy to look at this story and read into it that we should be like Mary, always taking the time to be at Jesus’s feet. This is not a horrible take away, after all, I would venture to guess that all of us could stand to spend more time in prayer, and reading the bible and journaling. But what I want us to focus on today is the why we should do that action, lest we turn “Being like Mary” into another way of “being like Martha.”
Here is what I mean, in any story, a hearer automatically gravitates toward people who they can easily identify with. And after identifying with those people, the hearer will naturally reflect on the lessons to be learned concerning them. Now Jesus, being the Son of God and Lord of all creation, is obviously a difficult person to identify with. Thus in this story, it is easy to focus upon the characters who are fully human without any divinity in them. So we look to Mary and Martha, and recognize that Jesus admonishes Mary concluding we should be like Mary. But what does this story tell us about Jesus, the one whom we call savior and Lord. Who is Luke telling us that Jesus is in this story? This is a question that I encourage you to reflect on anytime you read a gospel account, who is Jesus in this story?
Here Jesus is Lord of all, and yet Jesus is demonstrating that he came not to be served, but to serve. As Lord of all, he could have basked in the hospitality given to him and demanded that everyone serve him, and that would have been appropriate for his position and authority. Yet Jesus is not interested in that in this story.
Your Lord, came not to be served, but to serve. How does this truth shape your life? When you gather on Sunday mornings to come to bible study, and to attend the worship service, how does this truth shape those events? When a sermon is preached to you, and you come to the Altar to receive Christ’s body and blood, how does this truth, that your Lord came not to be served but to serve impact you? When you go about showing God’s love to the world and share the good news concerning Jesus, how does this truth shape your actions and your message. You should not pray because your Lord commands you to, you should not read scripture because God needs your acts of devotion. Rather your Lord longs to fill you up with His teachings and His truth, He desires to serve you.
Take time this week, to sit at the feet of Jesus. Read God’s word, pray, journal your thoughts after your prayer time. But be certain that these actions are done not because you are commanded to do them, but because you are invited by your Lord to come and hear His teachings. He will give you a heaping portion.