This post is the transcript from a sermon I preached at the Historic Methodist Campground on July 21, 2013.
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
We’ve all been where Martha has been. Worrying about the details. Wanting everything to be perfect and get finished on time or have results in our favorite. We run around preparing, cleaning, getting things done and we notice the “Marys” in our way. Sitting around soaking up the sun, the view, the music. We want to scream, “hey, get to work!” Or “I need some help over here!” On the other hand, we’ve all been where Mary has been. Something catches our attention; we stop in our tracks and forget everything that is happening around us, and get lost in the moment. I am famous for that! I can be in the middle of a sentence and something will catch my attention and I will leave the person I’m talking to very confused.
These 5 verses have caused some debate throughout the centuries, mostly about the roles of women. I can see that but I also see something more. Mary and Martha represent discipleship. The two women represent a balanced Christian life. Today, I’d like to focus on Martha. In my research I found that she really gets a bad rap, for being so busy and not stopping to sit at Jesus’ feet, like her sister Mary. Although, Jesus tells Martha not to worry he doesn’t tell her to stop working but to remember the one thing is needful, Him.
Let’s look at the setting of the scene. Bethany is 2 miles from Jerusalem. Some scholars refer to Bethany as Jesus’ Judan home. There are several events in Jesus’ ministry that occur in Bethany. It was where the feast at Simon’s house occurred in Matt. 26, Mark 14 and Luke 7. It was where he raised Lazarus (John 11). It was where the ascension took place (Luke 24:50-51).
Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus. It could be assumed that Jesus stopped here frequently. “It seems likely to me these were two women who were famous among early Christians, perhaps as missionaries, but certainly as leaders,” says Mary Rose D’Angelo, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. In Luke 10:38, Jesus and his disciples “came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” The language suggests that Martha owned the house—not unlikely as women did own property in ancient times. D’Angelo takes the interpretation a step further: “Early Christians didn’t have churches; most seem to have gathered in private houses, and perhaps Martha was the host of a house church”( http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-?page=2). A woman in leadership in the early church? For the 1st century readers/hearers, this is unexpected.
Martha was a woman of great faith. We see this in John 11. When Lazarus, her brother, dies, she ran out to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died BUT I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha knew that Jesus was capable of delivering the unexpected. Martha is bold. She is confident. She can say exactly what is on her mind to Jesus. She knows exactly who she is dealing with, in John 11:27 she says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” Unexpected, maybe?
Martha believed that Jesus could’ve done something about Lazarus, even after being dead for 4 days. In the gospel of Luke, I wonder what she expected Jesus to do about her sister? His response is unexpected. He turns it around on her. He reminds her of one thing is needful, Him.
We are called to be in relationship with Jesus. And in that relationship, we see ourselves unexpectedly transformed. When I gave my life to Christ, I knew things were going to be different but I had not expected the complete transformation of my life. I no longer thought the same, I saw the world in a new light and even I felt like I breathed differently. My conversion experience was very powerful. Being raised as a Roman catholic, attending catholic school, I always knew about Jesus but I had no idea who he really was and what His love for me really was all about.
One of the treasures of my life was a few months after I committed my life to Christ, I witnessed my husband committed his life. And I got to watch his life change. He was already a wonderful patient man; he was a provider, he loved me and our children unconditionally but when he welcomed Jesus into his heart he was even more patient, he loved to serve others more; setting a wonderful example for me and our children.
But there was always a touchy subject, his father. When I met Luis, more than 20 years ago, he was like many people I grew up with, he lived in a single parent home. Since it was so common, I didn’t bother to ask about where his dad was until we started our life together. I encouraged him to reconnect with his dad. He was not interested. As the years went by, I learned that his dad was not a very good father and an even worse husband. He was an alcoholic who was physically abusive to Luis’s mom and often gambled the family’s money away.
As Luis began his faith journey, the relationship of his father remained a touchy subject. I would ask him occasionally if he was ready to visit his dad. The answer was always “not yet”.
In July 2009, through Facebook, we reconnected with Luis’ cousin, Lisa, on his father side. They talked for hours that first night. He learned that his dad was doing well. He was shocked to learn that Lisa’s father lost his battle with cancer and passed away in the fall of 2008. Lisa was planning a visit to Chicago the following week; to visit some of the places she had memories with her father. During Lisa’s visit, she encouraged Luis to visit Puerto Rico and see his dad.
A few months after Lisa’s visit, we went to Puerto Rico. Unexpectedly, it was a life changing trip for me. I knew I would fall in love with the island and my husband’s family. But I didn’t expect to I fall deeper in love with my husband. After more than 25 years of being estranged from his father. Knowing all that I knew about his father, I watched my husband treat his dad with love, honor and respect. Not once, did he mention the past abuse. He never threw anything in his face. He walked into his father’s life like a son. I admired my husband even more. I couldn’t believe that I had married someone who could be so forgiving and loving, when I struggle to forgive people for even less transgressions.
Luis cultivated his relationship with his dad and new found family members. Calling his grandma once a week and checking up on his dad. It was a treat to watch him, build relationships with his family. On May 30, 2010, Luis received a call that his dad was killed by a hit and run driver. Talk about the unexpected! During our mourning, there were times we questioned God and became angry. But we felt the love of Jesus through our friends and church. We were constantly reminded, Jesus was the one thing is needful.
It’s not clear what the chronological order of Lazarus’ death and this visit to Bethany. But it seems that Lazarus’ death happened after this visit. And that Martha took Jesus’ advice and focused on the one thing needful, Him. This experience in her house shaped her for her ministry and most importantly shaped her view and relationship with Jesus.
How has your experience with Christ shape your life? When has Jesus showed up in your life in an unexpected way? It is very easy to get caught up in the busyness of our lives and worry over every little thing. But we must remember what Jesus said to Martha, One thing is needful. The author and perfector of our faith. So how do we become like Martha and Mary and balance our work with our faith? How do we become closer to God? Like any relationship, we work at it. We devote some quiet time, read the bible and pray. If you are thinking what I’m thinking, “yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that for years.” Well, it’s time to be creative! Find a new devotional, read a new translation of the bible, find a new place for quiet time. My prayer is that on our journey with Jesus we find the balance represented by Mary and Martha. Amen.