Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
Our gospel passage for today is one of those times where I can see the merits of both sides. So often people read this passage and try to pit Mary and Martha against each other. Martha represents work and Mary represents contemplation; Mary was better than Martha; Jesus approves of Mary but not Martha. But it’s not as simple as that.
Let’s remember first where we are in the context of Luke. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus sent disciples out before Him. He gives them instructions for their travels and their teaching, but also makes it clear that time is short and the work is urgent. Next Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable that emphasizes the importance of loving and serving one another. Only then do we reach our passage for today, set at Martha’s house.
It’s a short scene: Jesus (and, I think it’s safe to assume, His disciples) have been invited into Martha’s home. Jesus is teaching; Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. This is a posture of listening and learning; Paul referred to himself in Acts as having sat at his teacher Gamaliel’s feet. It was a humble position of learning. It was the position of a follower of Jesus.
Martha, meanwhile, is making preparations. After all, at least thirteen strangers have dropped into her house unannounced. Are they staying the night? What food does she have stored? Does she need to make something? Do they all have water? They’ve been walking; do they need water to wash their feet? Are they staying the night, and if so does she have enough blankets?
Just a scene ago, Jesus was reminding us how important it is to love and care for one another! Martha is caring for her unexpected guests by showing them hospitality. This is the work of a follower of Jesus.
That is, neither Mary nor Martha is doing anything wrong. In fact, they are both doing important work! Mary is listening to Jesus; Martha is serving Jesus. Both of them are doing good work.
But again, context is important. Jesus is a traveling teacher; He won’t be in town long. And Luke’s narrative is starting to remind us that Jesus will not be physically present with His disciples forever, but is traveling towards Jerusalem and His crucifixion. Martha thought Jesus was important or fascinating or holy or something, enough so that she invited Him to her house. And yet she is so busy with all these tasks that she’s not getting to hear Jesus’ teachings!
We often read Jesus’ response to Martha as a rebuke: ‘You’re so foolish, Martha!’ But what if it’s not that at all? What if Jesus is inviting her to listen, too? is inviting her into not just filling his needs, but into a relationship? I imagine it almost gently: ‘Martha. What I’m saying is important, and I’d like you to hear it, too. You can do all that later. I’d really like to spend some time with you right now.’
The problem isn’t that Martha is working and Mary is slacking off. The problem is that Martha feels like she has to do all these things, even though Jesus is in her house and when will that happen again?? Spend some time with Jesus.
I think we’re all familiar with this dilemma. There is always more to do, and we live in a culture that prizes doing as much as possible, all the time. How do we decide what’s important right now? Much of what we’re doing is good and important–spending time with family and friends, doing things we love, helping other people, working to support our families, making sure there’s food on the table and the grass gets mowed. All of that is good and important! How do we decide what’s important right now?
The answer lies in Jesus. What is Jesus asking you to do now? Where is Jesus leading you? Where is Jesus in your life right now?
Of course that’s easier said than lived out, now that we can no longer invite Jesus to physically come sit in our living room and speak to us. Trust me, I know that too. It’s easy to say to look for Jesus, harder to find Him and then know what He’s saying.
So I’m going to finish by sharing some ways that have worked for me and for others of listening for and searching for Jesus.
First, Jesus does not want you to be exhausted and irritable. Rest. You do not need to be doing something all the time! Rest is important enough that it is named in the 10 Commandments. Rest is holy and good and important.
Pray. Spend time with Jesus so you’ll know Him when He shows up. Read the Bible. Pray the psalms. Tell Jesus what you’re worried about and what’s going on in your life.
Finally, ask yourself: What do you long to do, wish you could do more of? Explore those feelings. Often God speaks to us through our longings and our emotions, especially those that have been with us for a long time. Our emotions may not always tell us the full truth, but they always have something important to say to us.
So that is what I pray for each of you. I hope that you are able to invite Jesus into your home. I hope you hear Him when He speaks, and are able to listen. I hope you find Jesus everywhere in your life. Because He is there, even if sometimes He is hard to find. Jesus is with you.
Alleluia, and Amen.