Now as they went on their way, Jesusentered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today we have one more of those very familiar stories from Jesus’ life. Jesus visiting two sisters – Martha and Mary. It may appear at first that there is nothing that important it this story. Just a little interaction.
But today we’ll try to see how Luke here portrays two radically different understandings about what our Triune God expects from us. All people in the world have either one of them or the other.
In one of them we tend to focus on ourselves, on our own attempts to be good in our own eyes, and in the eyes of our God. In the other, we focus on Jesus and on His message, on what He has done, does and has prepared for all who love Him.
And these two understandings are as different from one another as darkness is from light. The former brings anxiety, troubles, uncertainty: “Am I good enough?” The latter brings peace and joy and freedom as we hear the Father’s voice: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased!”
Let’s take a closer look at what happened as Luke recorded it. “Now as they went on their way, Jesusentered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
Here we already can see these two understandings unfolding. Who welcomed Jesus in her house? It was Martha. But what did it mean – to welcome a teacher of God’s Word? What would be the proper way to welcome someone who brings God’s message? The most important thing would be – to listen to this message.
To welcome God’s messenger, any God’s messenger, is first and foremost about welcoming his message and listening to what he has to say. It was true then. It is true now. As we can see even if Martha was the one who welcomed Jesus, she missed the most important part, that is, paying careful attention to Jesus’ teaching.
Mary, on the other hand, sat at Jesus feet as it was appropriate for students and listened to Jesus’ teaching. She did exactly what was expected from someone who truly welcomes God’s messenger.
“But Martha was distracted with much serving.” She was focused on her activities. Now is the time we can raise our objections. And this is how our twisted minds work. Yes, but who would do all the stuff around the house if everyone was just sitting at Jesus feet? Someone has to work; we can’t all simply sit and listen to Jesus.
When we think about Martha vs Mary, we may even identify with Martha, with her struggles. That’s what makes our objections even more passionate. Someone has to get things done, we can’t just all be lazy, sit and listen. Is it true?
No! It is false. We read that Martha was distracted with much serving. Not simply busy with much serving, but distracted. Distracted from what? From the most important part of welcoming Jesus – from listening to Him.
Martha was so focused on what she had decided to be the most important thing – on serving her guests, we could say – on serving Jesus. This is one of the traps where we as Christians can easily fall, when we decide what are the most important things to do.
For God, of course, for God. We want to do them for our God. Then it is not difficult to imagine how annoying it may be when you run around doing that really important stuff, while someone else seemingly does nothing.
I guess we can relate to that. It can make us angry. What is going on? Why don’t others help me? Why do I need to carry this burden alone? We can picture how Martha was getting more and more upset; the person who was expected to help, her sister, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, and having fun listening what He was teaching.
Finally, enough was enough and Martha “went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” If you believe that you are doing the right thing, then, of course, you are sure that even God is on your side.
That’s what people often believe. It is true for us Christians as well. We love when we do something that we consider important, we are on our mission, we feel great about ourselves, and sometimes we can even look down or get angry with those who don’t support the same important things that we do.
Don’t you dare to ruin my plans! Mary was ruining Martha’s plans, and Martha couldn’t allow this to happen. You know that when we are stressed and angry, we sometimes speak without much considering what we say.
This is what happened to Martha. It was bad enough that Mary wasn’t helping her, but also Jesus didn’t seem to care much about this unfair situation. So, Martha went after Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”
And as if to rebuke Jesus wasn’t enough, Martha also commanded Him: “You, tell her to help me!” Then Jesus answered her kindly and lovingly: “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.”
Jesus describes well the situation Martha was in. We all know situations like this. We may be stressed that things don’t happen our way, that others don’t do their part to help us, and worse, even our God seems to be letting us down, we are left with the burdens of the whole world to battle on our own.
And in situations like those, when we are so focused on what we want to do, it is easy to forget what is really important. The one thing which is truly necessary – listening to Jesus. Mary had chosen the good portion; it will not be taken away from her.
Let’s talk about this some more. Sometimes as we reflect on this event, our sinful minds may try to distort it, pitting two things one against the other as if they were somehow incompatible. Thus, on the one hand – doing stuff, serving, being active in doing good, and on the other – being passive, receptive and listening to Jesus words.
These then are portrayed as two opposites. Either being active in service to others, which obviously is a good thing, or passively spending time listening to Jesus, be it in the Divine Service, on in Bible studies, or in our home devotions, which doesn’t seem that important, for it doesn’t accomplish much.
Usually, these things are portrayed as the opposites by ‘Marthas’ of this world. “Should then we all just do nothing?” But they are not the opposites. They are actually two inseparable aspects of being a Christian. Two sides of the same coin.
However, one of them is infinitely more important than the other. Infinitely… As I said in the beginning, here we can see two very different understandings about what our Triune God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit expects from us.
Martha was sure that the most important were her acts of service, that this is what God wants from us, and most people probably would agree with her, even many who would consider themselves Christians. However, Jesus said that the one thing that is necessary for us is – to listen to Him.
But how can passive listening to Jesus be more important than our service to others? But what if we asked this question differently? What is more important – what we do, or what our Triune God does? What are more important – our works or God’s works?
If we put our question this way, then the answer seems obvious. Of course, God’s works. When we serve others, these are our works. They are good and needed, and we are created to serve our neighbours. We all have given opportunities to do an amazing amount of good for others. No doubt about that. Let’s do that as much as we can.
But when we humbly and attentively listen to Jesus in the Divine Service, or in our Bible studies, or in our home devotions, that is about our God doing His work with us and for us. That’s right. Remember, our God is God who does everything by speaking.
By speaking He created the world, by speaking He sustains it. By speaking He calls people out of this world of darkness, gives them new living hearts and brings them into His Kingdom of light. When we listen to Jesus’ words, God Himself is at work.
Calling you to Himself, restoring you, creating in you new hearts, making you wise, equipping you for the service to others, giving you His peace and joy. When Jesus speaks to you, you receive the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit is given to you, He is a guaranty of your inheritance in God’s Kingdom.
Do you see how great the difference?! Our works are for our neighbours, for this world, needed and good, for sure. But listening to Jesus – that has eternal significance. Our works are about temporary wellbeing, listening to Jesus is about our eternal fate.
Besides, if we believe that our activities, our service is of ultimate importance, there will be a lot of troubles and anxiety. When we indeed honestly strive to be good enough by what we do and how much and how well we do it, we struggle, for we are imperfect people living in this broken world.
Too often we fail to live up even to our own expectations, at least I do, we are distressed, often circumstances seem to be stacked against us, too often others don’t even notice and don’t appreciate what we do.
When we sort of succeed, immediately we are tempted to consider ourselves as better than others, we become critical and impatient, harsh in our self-righteousness. In this scenario our peace and joy, our worthiness and goodness depend on our success.
It is so different when we realize that what is of the ultimate important is listening to Jesus as He speaks to us. For as He speaks, eternal life is given to you. You listen to words of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit comes to you.
You listen and Jesus tells: “I love you so much!” You listen and Jesus assures you: “Everything is done, completed, finished, so that you could be with me forever.” You don’t need to prove yourself or earn God’s favour by being like Martha.
You listen to Jesus and He makes you wise. He teaches you how to serve your neighbours better, how to give them what they truly need. You listen and the Holy Spirit renews and restores your hearts, and now you desire to do good to everyone, especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ. You listen to Jesus and He sends you to love your neighbours as God loves you.
And because you are overwhelmed by God’s self-sacrificial love, by His undeserved grace, and filled with His Spirit of joy, you simply can’t sit still, you want to share the goodness of this God with others. And when you do, when you serve, there is no more anxiety or trouble, for your goodness and your salvation don’t depend on what you do.
It depends on Jesus. On what He already has done. You are free to serve others. Free. You may be at peace. Loved. Saved. Embraced. Blessed. Assured. Having all God’s promises. They are yours. Being made co-heirs with Jesus. Knowing that this portion will not be taken from you. Ever. How good is that?!
This is what we can learn from this little story. There are two ways to think about God. Anxious and troubled way where everything depends on our performance; if we are good enough, then hopefully God will be good and gracious to us. But we know in the heart of hearts how imperfect we are, how often we fall short.
The other is the way of peace and joy, where our gracious God and Father Himself takes care of you. You simply are invited to receive His care and His gifts. This is our Christian way. This is what following Jesus looks like.
Sitting at His feet, listening to His teachings, and rejoicing that the Triune God has chosen to speak to you. Don’t be like Martha, don’t be distracted. Listen and rejoice, for this good portion will not be taken away from you.