Luke 10:38-42 Year C Trinity 6/ Proper 11 or BCP Trinity 6
When I visit couples who have enquired about baptism I tell them that it involves a commitment to bringing up the child as a Christian and this includes regular church attendance. Often I will be told that they are too busy to attend although sometimes I will gently challenge the couple by pointing out that they would not think twice about sending their child to school, so why not bring them to church to learn about Jesus. Often they decide that a Thanksgiving Service is more honest and appropriate and we had such as case last Sunday morning.
Today's sermon is about the busyness of one person and the devotion of another. I am sure that we all struggle with achieving the right balance of using our time for devotion and doing things.
Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem, was the home of Mary Martha and their brother, Lazarus, who, Jesus would later raise form the dead (Jn : 11,12:1-3). It seems that Jesus and his disciples would visit them when they visited Jerusalem, for example to attend the Passover Festival.
In this story we have three main characters, Martha, Mary and Jesus. It has been suggested that this is about a contrast between the two sisters. Martha representing the practical, busy person, and Mary the spiritual and contemplative. However, this story really concerns what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Martha is the Aramaic word for 'lady or mistress'. Verse 38 says that, "Martha opened her home to him." These facts suggest that Martha was probably the older sister and she took upon herself the responsibility for providing hospitality for Jesus and his disciples.
When we are expecting guests Melanie will spend a lot of time ensuring that the house is more than clean and tidy. I think she goes over the top sometimes and remind her that the people have come to see us and not a spotless house ! But I suppose most people want their home to be at its best when they are visited. This was certainly the case with Martha who was very busy trying to get things ready for her visitors. We don't know what exactly, but can safely assume that some of it involved preparing food for her thirteen, or more visitors.
Have you ever been in a position where you are in a team of people and you feel that another member of the team is not pulling their weight ? I remember when I was at school getting angry, probably quite unjustly, with another member of my football team whom I felt was not trying as hard as I was.
Martha felt like that. You can imagine her preparing the food and seeing her younger sister out of the corner of her eye sitting at Jesus feet, smiling at his words in rapt attention.
In sitting at Jesus feet, Mary was acknowledging that he was her master and she was his disciple. In Jesus' day women and children were seen as little more than objects so it was shocking in that culture for a man to treat a woman as an equal. This is one of several instances where Jesus accepts women in this way.
In the Middle East of that day, speakers called 'sophists', from the Greek 'sophia' meaning wisdom, travelled from town to town, accepting the gifts and hospitality of appreciative listeners. In 8:3 Luke points out that certain women who had been healed by Jesus helped provide for him. Luke also features the insights of Mary, the mother of Jesus in his gospel and introduces 13 women who do not appear in the other Gospels. In John 4 Jesus defies custom and approaches a woman, who is also a Samaritan at a well. Women remained at the cross until the burial and were first at the empty tomb. Women joined the men in prayer between the Ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The disciples in Jerusalem met in the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (12:12).
The willingness of Jesus to accept women as equals affected the early church, so Paul was able to write to the Galatian church, 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. There are no second class citizens in God's kingdom, although this does not mean that we are all identical or that we are all called to fulfil the same role.
When we are serving up meals we have to prise Joshua away from his Playstation or the television. We speak to him and it doesn't register. Martha didn't speak to Mary. Maybe that would have been a waste of time if she was concentrating too much on Jesus to hear her words, and if she had succeeded Mary might have told Martha to do the preparations later.
Martha might have been jealous of the attention that Jesus was giving to her sister. Her question to Jesus would have focused his attention on her and her plight. She may also have been jealous of the attention that her sister was giving Jesus and feared that this might prejudice her own relationship with Mary. We don't know exactly why Martha spoke to Jesus, other than to try and get him on her side. Her words showed that she was straight speaking and close enough to Jesus to talk to him in this way. Her question was phrased in the Greek to expect the answer 'Yes' from Jesus.
Jesus was very gentle in responding to Mary. He calls her by name, twice. We can imagine him doing this in a comforting, soothing tone of voice. "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Jesus doesn't condemn her but points to what is the better, even the most important thing. The things that Martha is worrying about, such as preparing the food and setting the table will be gone the next day. But Jesus' words will never be taken away from Mary. Jesus said on another occasion, "Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.", ( Luke 21:33 )
Jesus was saying that Mary had got her priorities right. It was most important for her to concentrate on her discipleship rather than things that are unimportant in the light of eternity. This does not mean that we are to be inhospitable, in fact the New Testament commends hospitality ( 1 Peter 4:9 ). It does not mean that we are to be impractical and irresponsible either. However, it does point to the enduring importance of spending time with Jesus in private and public devotion. This is perhaps a message that Christians need today. Church statistics show that, while about the same number of people are attending church in this country, they are doing so less frequently. We could easily apply this principal of Mary and Martha to a Christian who goes shopping on Sunday rather than attend public worship. Jesus might kindly suggest to them that there is plenty of other time to shop and, with a little planning this could be avoided.
I would like to relate the following story to you that I told four weeks ago to our morning congregation that I think is worth repeating which, whilst amusing is challenging as well.
A Nashville newspaper carried a tongue-in-cheek story about Mrs. Lila Craig who hasn't missed attending church in 1,040 Sundays although she is in her eighties. The editor commented: "It makes one wonder, what's the matter with Mrs. Craig? Doesn't it ever rain or snow in her town on Sunday? Doesn't she ever have unexpected company? How is it that she never goes anywhere on Saturday night so that she's too tired to attend the worship service the next morning? Doesn't she ever 'beg off' to attend picnics or family reunions, or have headaches, colds, nervous spells, or tired feelings? Doesn't she ever oversleep or need time to read her Sunday newspaper? Hasn't she ever become angry at the minister or had her feelings hurt by someone and felt justified in staying home to hear a good sermon on the radio or TV? WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH MRS. CRAIG ANYWAY?
Of course, we can deduce from this that Mrs. Craig made a priority out of the church and that serving and worshipping God were the most important thing to her.
I am sure that there were many other conversations between Jesus, Mary and Martha that are not recorded in any of the gospels. However, we do have two further glimpses of the faith of these sisters in John's gospel which indicates that Jesus' words and actions resulted in each sister putting their faith in him.
In John 11, even after her brother Lazarus had just died, Martha made her own confession of faith in Jesus. In verse 27 she says: `I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.'
After Jesus had raised Lazarus from death, and a week before the last Passover, Mary showed her devotion to Jesus by anointing his head and feet with costly ointment and wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:3). Her costly act of devotion would have been influenced by Jesus' teaching and inspired by the life that was given back to her brother.
As those who have had their lives saved by Jesus may our lives be living sacrifices, listening to and obeying his teaching, putting him first in our lives.