The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 10:38 “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’” (NASB)
Over the past few weeks through the assigned Gospel lessons we have been walking with Jesus to Jerusalem. We learned of a Samaritan village that did not want Jesus to use their road to pass through their village on His way to Jerusalem. The “Sons of Thunder” (James and John) wanted to serve the kingdom of God and advance the mission of the church by calling down fire from heaven to burn them up.
Next three men approach Jesus wanting to become disciples. They want to serve Christ as well, but they have divided loyalties. Jesus summed up the problem by saying, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Next up was the sending of the 70. This was the disciples’ opportunity to serve Christ by actually doing the work of the Church– preaching that the Kingdom of God is near. They do was instructed, but during the debriefing they delight in exactly the wrong kind of thing. (10:17) Jesus chides them over their misdirected enthusiasm and tells them that they ought “not rejoice over the fact that spirits obey you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Last week a lawyer wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. His focus was his work under the law. The parable of the Good Samaritan showed the man he’d had failed to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind and his neighbor as himself, thus ending for that man the illusion that he could keep inherit eternal life by keeping the Law.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus now safely tucked away in the house of two devoted members of the church– two Christians – Mary and Martha. Martha and her sister Mary received Jesus and some of His disciples into their home.
Once Jesus got settled in, He immediately began teaching. It was at that point that Martha and Mary had a choice to make. Martha chose to follow the tradition and the protocols of ancient hospitality. Mary made a different choice. Mary sat at the Jesus’s feet and listened to Him teach. Mary decided to learn from God’s Word. (Luke 10:39)
In the culture of the day females did not receive a formal education. They underwent domestic training, but they did not receive training in the Torah or other kinds of education necessary to be of service to the religious and government institutions of the day.
If a young lady had a curious nature, she could pick up things here and there when she overheard the head of the house teaching the boys or having conversations with other men. This kind of learning was acceptable, but the idea that a rabbi would enter a woman’s house for the purpose of teaching theology to the women was just not done. Equally unheard of was a woman forsaking domestic duties so she would go to theology class. Jesus for His part didn’t do a thing to discourage her.
Martha was following traditions that went back to the days of Abraham. In the Old Testament lesson for this morning three heavenly visitors came to Abraham’s tent. When Abraham lifted his head and discovered three visitors standing before him he immediately extended his hospitality. The first order of business was a meal. It was no small undertaking. In the ancient world, they didn’t just pop something into the oven. A proper meal took hours to prepare, serve, and eat.
Martha and Mary were also being visited by the Lord so Martha went about the duties of her vocation and extended the customary hospitality toward her newly welcomed guests. She got to work. But Mary, Mary chose to do something else.
Mary decided to show her own version of hospitality. After all, being considerate and listening to one’s guest is an act of hospitality. Martha’s idea of hospitality was to do for and give a meal to Jesus and His disciples. Mary’s idea of hospitality was to receive what Jesus was giving, namely an education in the Gospel.
Martha wasn’t happy in the least with Mary’s choice. It looked lazy, perhaps even disrespectful. It was certainly a break from centuries of tradition, a woman stepping out of her place. Worst of all, Mary wasn’t helping. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)
It makes no difference whether Jesus is replying to friend or foe, His answers are very often the exact opposite of what people think they ought to be. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41–42) Instead of agreement and help, Jesus gives Martha a mild rebuke. But within the rebuke is one of the most profound lessons for the Christian life. And in the readings this morning we have a lesson of contrasts.
Abraham and Sarah serve the Lord when He came to visit and they were not rebuked. Martha serves the Lord and is rebuked. What’s the difference? Why is one service welcomed and the other is diminished?
The difference is Martha’s view of things, the value she places on the two activities. Mary is listening to and learning the Word of God from the Lord incarnate and Martha is getting in the way of what the Lord is seeking to teach the church. Martha and the ordinary duties of hospitality are eclipsing the work of the Word of God. Abraham, Sarah, and the young servant were not getting in the way of the reason for the angelic visit. That’s the difference between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons. Sinful human beings are by nature ego-centric. We think that our existence is about us, its about what we do or how we feel.
Church bodies, congregations, and the people in them do all kinds of things. They engage in all kinds of work when serving their families, fellow members, neighbors, and the Lord. Here at Immanuel some people show up during the week on Saturday fixing, improving, cleaning, and maintaining the property. At other times people prepare meals. We produced a play. Some represented the church in a community clean up event. We are a small congregation but we are a pretty active congregation. The life of a Christian is to be a busy and productive life in service to the church, one’s family, and our neighbors.
But we must never forget what Martha forgot. When it comes to the choice between God’s Word and the work He does in and through the church, and our works, we must not regard our work as something more important than hearing and learning the Word of God. One thing is needful for salvation, that is true Christian faith.
As a Christian you are to be about the business (but not exclusively) of receiving that which Christ Jesus is giving you. You are to be about receiving the preaching/teaching of God’s Word, true worship, and the use of the sacraments.
Are we to be about doing good toward others? Yes. Galatians 6:10 “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
Are we to be a hospital people? Yes. Romans 12:13 “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” 1 Peter 4:9-10, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Notice verse 10, we receive first and serve and give second. Even Christians get that backwards. Sometimes we forget that.
Dr. Gene Veith recently posted an article on the Patheos Blog titled, “Evangelicals Blow Off Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?” The article cites a studying that indicates American Evangelicals are simply ignoring Jesus’s commands baptize and to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Now the Church has been divided over the purpose and nature of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper for a thousand years plus. But regardless of whether Christians regarded the sacraments as a symbol or as the means of grace through which God is converting, saving, and sustaining us, Christians made use of these things because in them Christ was doing something toward us.
But it seems now that American Evangelicals and a lot of other Christians (Lutherans included) would rather follow in the foot-steps of Martha rather than Mary. They’d rather preoccupy themselves with their own activity than with allowing learning the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most don’t think they need to sit at the feet of a faithful pastor/teacher of God’s Word.
Mary and Martha are Christians. They love their Lord and Savior. But in this moment, one of them forgot that the most important thing in our relationship to our Savior is the work He is doing to save us and keep us to the day of our ascension into heaven. The lesson to the Christian is that we are not to become so busy with the things of this life and the work that we do that we crowd out the one thing that is needful for eternal life. The problem is one of priorities and order. Jesus must first serve us before we can serve our neighbor.
One thing is needful – that is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen. Martha needed to stop doing and start listening. Jesus did not come to her home to be served, but to serve. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Mary chose the good part because she chose to listen to the Good Teacher.
The Word doesn’t just create true Christian faith, it sustains it. It takes us from what we were and keeps us in what we have been made to be. That’s the Epistle lesson. “Although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. ” (Col. 1:21-23,28)
Martha was not wrong in extending hospitality to Christ and observing the traditions of the day. She was wrong when she considered the service she was rendering was important than the service Christ Himself performs for us.
All temporal work will end some day. But the hearing of God’s Word will never end. God’s Word abides forever. Christ, His works, and His words shall not be taken away from you. Mary had chosen that good portion – to sit and listen – to receive the Word – Jesus’ Word – and it won’t be taken away from her.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.