Sitting with Jesus: At The Home of Martha and Mary
Reading: Luke 10:38 – 42
I am always challenged by this passage of Scripture!
The two sisters, Martha and Mary, seem to often be presented as symbolising the conflict between Martha’s active life and Mary’s contemplative life. Because of what Jesus appears to say the contemplative life is regarded as higher, more spiritual, more essential. The active, practical life is necessary but inferior. This is not helped by the Great Reformer Martin Luther’s commentary of Jesus’ statement. Martha is seen by him as a loser. “Martha your work must be punished and regarded as worthless. I want no work but that of Mary, which is faith.”
I know that in my life I have often oscillated between hard work in practical service and wanting to sit at the feet of Jesus. When I’ve emphasised the one, especially in seasons of projects, I’ve felt guilty about not fulfilling the other. Am I alone in that? Or does this passage affect you like that too?
Interestingly Mary means: “Obstinacy” or “Rebellion”. Having said that, on our Zoom meeting, another definition was offered by someone who has Mary as their middle name – “Independence.”
Martha means: “Sovereign Lady,” “Ruling Lady” or “Lady.”
Martha and Mary are sisters of Lazarus. Details are scarce about them. But their home is a significant Gift to Jesus and His Disciples in four ways:-
- A Place of Refuge.
- A Place of Refreshing.
- A Place of Relaxation.
- A Place of Reality.
We all need homes like that! When we find them they become “Oasis” in our lives, on our journeys. Where we can be ourselves – take off our shoes, put our feet up and place our hands behind our heads and – nod off. Chat, catch up on news, family news. This is something that we are missing during these Covid days. Jesus always headed to this home when He passed through Bethany.
Martha was Head of The Household. “Martha opened her home to Him (Jesus)” (v38b) Martha and Mary were single – though some commenters say that Martha may have been widowed. They normally worked together, managing the home together.
We are given two word pictures that show that on this occasion the sisters took different approaches to Jesus’ visit.
Picture 1: (v39b) “Mary, who sat at The Lord’s feet listening to what He said.”
Picture 2: (v40a) “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Martha eventually boiled over! Can you imagine the internal conversation with herself as she banged the pots. Clanged the utensils, kicked the dog? Muttering to herself, “I’m here in the kitchen and she’s at the Bible study. She could stand it no longer. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (v40b)
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was teaching Mary loud enough for Martha to hear her in the kitchen? It might well have been “Servanthood.” In this passage of Scripture Diakonia is mentioned in an apparently negative light. In every other New Testament usage it is always positive. Diakonia means: Serving at The Lord’s table; Proclaiming His message; Providing leadership in the Church.
“Martha, Martha, 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.” (v 41 – 42)
There is a time to “Sit at the feet of Jesus!”
I’m sure that after this conversation, and some more teaching, they all sat down for a beautiful meal.
So what is Jesus saying to Martha, and to us? Jesus disapproves of the way that she is going about serving – with fuss and agitation.
We do not need to separate the gentle, listening, self-surrendering Mary in us from the busy Martha. However, we are called to firstly listen to The Word of God and then, secondly, to engage in serving The Lord Jesus wherever He leads us.
Our learning journeys – our “Sitting With Jesus” moments are uniquely personal.
The next mention of Martha and Mary, in the Bible, is found in John’s Gospel chapter 11: 1 – 45. Lazarus is dying, and dies, before Jesus visits Bethany. This is far from poor timing. Jesus delays His response so that He can teach His Disciples, Martha and Mary, that He is the great I AM of Resurrection and Life. Lazarus dies and had been in the tomb for 4 days. Everyone had to know that Jesus overcame death when He spoke The Word of Life to Lazarus.
“Martha’s Teaching Moment.” Read: John 11:21 – 28
“Mary’s Worshipful Response to Jesus.” Read: John 11:32
When Jesus saw the genuine love that Mary, and the Jews with her, had for Lazarus, He was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
(v35) “Jesus Wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible shows us that some responses are deeper than words!
(v36 – 44) Explains the historical events that followed as Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb declaring, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go!”
The Apostle John, in chapter 12:1 – 7 shares with us a beautiful insight into events at a celebratory meal, given in Jesus’ honour. Martha and Mary had sat at the feet of Jesus and learnt how to serve, with a right spirit. “Martha served” (v2). “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (v3).
Judas Iscariot complained about the apparent waste of this gift. He wanted to finance his own lifestyle. Jesus knew his motivation and declares (v7) “leave her alone, it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.” Matthew, in his recounting of the event, says that Mary poured the fragrance on Jesus’ head. Covering Him in the perfume, and His clothes, would have meant that the powerful fragrance would have been able to have been smelt by Jesus throughout the following traumatic week leading to his death – the fragrance of Mary’s worship. Jesus says in v13 of Matthew chapter 26, “Truly I tell you, wherever this Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Today we fulfil that Scripture.
May we be those who sit at the feet of Jesus, hear His voice and fulfil His instruction.