Sunday, July 18, 2010
The Better Part
Time after Pentecost - Lectionary 16
Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
Choosing the better part
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
I have long been intrigued by this passage of scripture. On the surface it seems like a story with a very simple meaning.
In the past, many have rendered the life lesson from the story to mean that it is always right and proper to sit at the feet of Jesus. I have heard people say that Martha was wrong to be scurrying around trying to get things together for Jesus. I have heard others say that Mary was the better and more spiritual sister.
I used to agree with all of this interpretation, but now I do not. The longer I live and the more I work in the church, the more I empathize with Martha. After all, we do know that radical hospitality is a godly virtue. The Bible teaches us that we should practice kindness to friends and strangers alike since we may be entertaining angels unaware.
We do know that inviting Jesus into your home could never be a bad thing. After all, it appears that Jesus (and likely his disciples) appeared unannounced. If you read the scripture closely it says, “Now as THEY went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
See, he entered the village and then got the invitation! What boldness Martha displayed! I don’t know about you, but my house is not always as clean and ready as I would like it to be if I were going to entertain the Son of God and His friends. (giggles)
So, I hope we will pardon Martha for inviting them in (which was the right thing to do) and then running around like a chicken with her head cut off, trying to accommodate them.
Did she have enough food? Was the couch cleared off? Were there enough chairs? Was a simple meal going to have to become more complex? Did she have enough wine? Maybe she had time to dust a little bit while Jesus wasn’t looking? (HA!)
As a woman, I can only imagine what was going through Martha’s mind…but as she prepared to feed Jesus and his crew, she became angrier and angrier as she observed her sister sitting in the living room, shooting the breeze with the guys.
Can you blame her? There was work to be done!
You know, this happens in churches too, doesn’t it? There are always a handful of people, who do most of the work in any congregation. They serve on the church council, a couple of teams, and are always ready to volunteer whenever things need to get done.
You know who these folks are, we all do. They bake bread, serve communion, usher, sing in the choir, sit on the leadership team, trim the bushes, welcome the visitors, and even scrub the toilets when the church has need.
Most of the time these folks serve with great joy! But, every once in a while, WE (and I will boldly include myself), WE get crabby, as we watch others come to church week after week for worship and then go home, never having DONE ANYTHING to help out!
Martha was feeling crabby when she approached Jesus and basically said, “Don’t you care that I’m doing all the work? Make my sister help me!”
And in response, Jesus said, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Humph! I’m sure Martha didn’t like that answer…Was she wrong for working for Jesus? Of course not!
So, what was the one thing she needed and did not have? What was it that Mary had and she did not?
I don’t think the answer is an unwillingness to work. I think the answer is a single-minded devotion to loving Jesus!
See, Mary had her mind fixed on Jesus. She sat at his feet and listened to what he was saying out of her love for Jesus. She was not worried or distracted. She simply liked being in the presence of her friend.
Martha, however, was not single-mindedly devoted to loving Jesus. She had allowed her worry, fear, and anxiety of not providing adequate hospitality, to cloud her vision. She was worrying, while she worked. She was distracted, while she worked. She was not focused on her love for Jesus, while she worked.
Her work was not the issue! Someone had to prepare food! Someone had to prepare drink! Someone had to prepare the hospitality that Jesus and his disciples needed at that time.
But, she could have worked in peace. She could have worked in joy. She could have worked with love overflowing in her heart for Jesus, the disciples, and yes, even her sister!
A few weeks ago my friend Pastor John talked about the importance of being BOTH a disciple and an apostle. In this story, Mary is the disciple. She is sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning from him. Martha is an apostle. She has been sent out to prepare the things that Jesus needs to share the good news!
In both postures—disciple and apostle--our single-minded devotion ought to be our love for Christ! This love overshadows our worries. It overshadows our distraction. It overshadows our fear.
The Bible says that perfect love casts out all fear and it is true!
When we allow LOVE to be our guiding motivation, then our work becomes our worship! Mary was worshipping at the feet of Jesus and that was so grand that Jesus refused to take it away from her.
But, in saying, “Martha, you have neglected one thing…”, Jesus was reminding his friend that her work could be her worship as well.
When our work is our worship, we whistle while we work. When our work is our worship, we serve with a smile on our face. When our work is our worship, we don’t get crabby with our neighbors who need to be disciples for a while. When our work is our worship, we don’t mind being apostles—or bearers of the good news—by any means necessary.
As Christians, it is my fervent prayer that we will be raising up disciples and apostles who have a single-minded devotion to loving God and neighbor as ourselves.
It is my prayer that all of us would find time to sit at the feet of Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible Study AND that all of us would make time to be apostles—sent out ones—who share the love of God through service, relationship, and the giving of our time, talent, and treasure to God and neighbor.
None of this can be accomplished without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that causes us to act, not out of obligation, but out of love! When we allow ourselves to be seated in the heart of God, and to be motivated by the power of LOVE, we will find that God’s love for us will overflow out of our hearts and into the lives of others!
May all of us be so single-mindedly devoted to our love for Christ that the call to discipleship and the call to apostleship will be easily answered with a joyful and RESOUNDING YES!
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen…
Let us pray: Oh Holy God, please give me the heart of Mary who sits at your feet and listens to your words and the heart of Martha who was willing to serve you. In both postures, give me a heart that is singularly devoted to loving you! I pray this in Jesus' Name, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta