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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pentecost 9: Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha” the Lord answered; “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I think the story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel is possibly one of the more misunderstood stories in the gospels.  So let’s have a look at it and then see if it has some application in our lives.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

They’re on their way from the place where Jesus has just told them the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we looked at in detail last week.  They come to a village where a woman named Martha opens her home to Jesus, and therefore also to His disciples …… 13 extra people for dinner!
The first thing we learn, therefore, about Martha, is that she is a woman of great hospitality.  Opening her home to strangers, welcoming strangers ....... this is a wonderful gift which makes Martha a wonderful woman.  Jesus will later tell a parable where He says: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  
13 extra people to lunch …… how would you feel about that TODAY?

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

So … … you have 13 unexpected guests for lunch today, and your sister, brother, husband, wife … …sits in the lounge … … dreamily … … listening.
13 extra guests means … … a little bit of extra help is needed.
Many of you know how Martha is beginning to feel … … don’t you?  And if you don’t, by this afternoon you will when you’re doing all the work while the rest of the family reads the Sunday paper.

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

DUH!!!
Martha is one of those wise people who has come to learn that tables don’t set themselves, food doesn’t cook itself and tea & coffee don’t make themselves.  
Good hospitality doesn’t just happen, does it?
So yes……Martha was distracted……DUH!!!

She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?

But she’s not so distracted that she forgets to turn to the Lord.  She’s angry……wouldn’t you be?  And I love that she goes to the Lord first – we can learn from this wonderful woman……take everything to the Lord……first.   
And she takes her anger out on the Lord before she takes it out on anybody else……she is teaching us how to pray!
"Lord, I thought You stood up for those who are oppressed, I thought You cared for those who are down-trodden, especially in the home."  Many of us think it is better to pretend that everything is ok and “politely” carry on……not a good person like Martha, she doesn't bottle her emotions up – she takes it to the Lord in prayer.  (Speaking to the Lord is prayer.)

Tell her to help me!

Again, a wonderful example of how to pray.  Tell God your needs, your wants, your desires, your wishes.  You won’t always get them, but don’t let that stop you from asking.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,

This is soft and gentle, isn’t it?  If it were just, “Martha” it would be harsh.  Jesus’ response to her angry outburst is not to respond in His own angry outburst, but is rather……gentle and loving.
"Martha, Martha"

“you are worried and upset about many things,

There’s a hint here that Jesus can see deep into the soul, which He can of course……especially when that soul is honest and open before Him, as Martha’s was.  It is only when we, from our side, reveal ourselves, open ourselves up to Jesus (who already knows everything)……it is by our opening up that we invite Him in.  Do you perhaps need to open up some area of your life to Him today,....or take some bottled up emotion to Him today?

Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things
but few things are needed—or indeed only one  (Some manuscripts but only one thing is needed) 
Jesus us now beginning his healing work in Martha.  And His healing word to her is a healing word that many of us need to hear, and that word is simply PRIORITISE.  What is important……now?

Mary has chosen what is better, 
Notice, it is not, “Mary has chosen what is good” because that would imply that what Martha was doing was bad.  No……Mary has chosen what is better.  In other words, “What you are doing Martha is good.  But right now, Mary has chosen the better thing to do. Your timing is out a bit.”

and it will not be taken away from her.” 
In other words……"I won’t tell her to help you. I won't answer your prayer."
Martha’s very fair request, petition, to Jesus is turned down by Jesus.....  We all know what it is like  to have prayers go unanswered by Jesus.  Even Jesus experienced a “no” from God when he prayed for His cup of suffering to be taken away.  It sometimes seems that God reserves His “no” for the greatest and most faithful of His people……but that’s another subject.

What can we learn from this story that will help us become more like Jesus?

Well, to begin with, note my question.  It is not what can I do to become more like Mary or more like Martha.  We miss the point of this story entirely if we think its purpose is to show us whether we are a Mary or a Martha.  When we see the story this way, we ending up saying things like: Mary would have spent 67 minutes on Mandela Day praying for the poor; Martha would have spent 67 minutes feeding the poor....or, in response to the Zimmerman verdict, Mary would pray about it, Martha would take some form of action.  And dare I say that on this occasion Jesus might have said; “Martha has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”

Was Jesus a Mary or a Martha?   The question is ridiculous…He was both. Are you a Mary or a Martha?.......the question is ridiculous.

I think we get the real meaning and purpose of this story when we put it in its context.  It comes immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan and immediately before Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

We tend to think in the following way when we misunderstand this story:
Good Samaritans are Martha’s; good pray-ers are Mary’s. This story is placed where it is to show us the importance of both in the Christian life.  You can’t really have one without the other.  A good Mary must have a good Martha in her, otherwise he/she is a person with much faith……but no actions……and this is a dead faith.  Likewise, a good Martha must have a good Mary in her/him.  It is only at our Lord’s feet, it is only in prayer and time with God that we learn to hear the voice that will say to us.... on the road (thinking of the Good Samaritan parable) – don’t stop for that person……do stop for that person……give that person money/food……DON’T give that person money/food……welcome that stranger in your home……don’t welcome that stranger in your home.

I think the key idea in this story is contained in the words, “only one thing is needed.”  What is that “thing”?  
Paying attention to Jesus.

On the road like the Samaritan, paying attention to Jesus.  At prayer, as Jesus will teach us next week, paying attention to Jesus,.....in our home, workplace, church, nation, paying attention to Jesus.

That is what is needed, in your life, certainly in my life, in the life of our church, in the life of our city and nation……pay attention to Jesus.

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