Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
A piece of marriage advice that I remember hearing at some point in my life, I’m not even sure where I heard it or who said it, but it went something like this: When a couple is first married and have strong feelings for one another it’s easy for the husband to say something like, “Honey, I will lay my life down for you, I will give up my life for you.” Which is a very noble, that a husband would heroically give up his life to spare his wife’s. But it would actually be a very, very rare thing that a husband would actually have to give up his life for his wife. The same husband who said he’d give up his life for his wife and Monday morning rolls around and his wife says, “Dear, would you take the trash out this morning?” “What! I have to take the trash out? I have a million things to do and I’m already late for work and now I have to take the trash out? Are you kidding me?” You see, better than saying, “I’ll give up my life for you” is “I’ll live my life for you.” Right? You see, it’s not so much the big moments of life that define us, it’s the little things. It’s the day-to-day things, it’s the hum-drum things of life that really define you and your character. Big events simply reveal what all of the little events of life have made you to be. You can be swept along with all the little things of life or you can make a choice to do the right thing, the needed thing, the important thing in spite of opposition.
We have before us something so mundane, so hum-drum, so seemingly inconsequential. We don’t have someone’s sight being restored, or 5,000 being fed, or someone being raised from the dead, no, we have dinner preparations and an upset sister. I don’t think anyone is ever going to make a movie of this – it’s so ordinary, so mundane.
But the lesson is so important for us. Martha is swept along by the stream, but Mary finds time for focused attention at the feet of Jesus. And she does it in the mundane, in the hum-drum, she sets the right priority, she finds focused attention at the feet of Christ and she doesn’t let all the things, all the little things that happen every day sweep her away from that. And that’s what makes her great. In fact, so great that we’re still looking at this event almost 2,000 years after it happened.
So, what do we learn here about sitting at Jesus’ feet? Let’s take a look at these two women. There’s one who is not sitting at Jesus’ feet, let’s look at what she’s doing and the results in her life and then look at the one who is sitting at Jesus’ feet and the results in her life.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” Now, we’re not sure whether or not it’s just Jesus at Martha’s home or if all of his disciples are also with him. It could be that Jesus is going with his disciples but he turns aside to go to these sisters’ home. But think about that for a moment. What if Jesus showed up at your house? What if you ran into Jesus at the market and invited him to supper? Are you going to serve leftovers from the fridge? Also, they didn’t have King Soopers or Albertsons or take out or delivery, it’s all made from scratch. So we can certainly empathize with Martha.
So Martha is very busy. Perhaps she’s preparing a feast with all kinds of things on the stove and in the oven, she’s distracted by all kinds of service. And, we need to keep this in mind, who is she serving? She’s serving Jesus! She wants Jesus to have a nice meal! Perhaps she knows that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but Jesus has no place for his head. So at least while he’s under my roof he’s going to get the treatment he deserves. She’s serving Jesus and yet, Jesus lovingly rebukes her. So, you can actually be very actively serving Jesus and yet still get a rebuke from him. So, how do we know if we’re being swept along down the stream like Martha? What are the signs?
First, there’s this inner turmoil. “Martha, Martha, ‘ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things.’” The word “worried” actually means to be torn in pieces in all kinds of directions. And the word “upset” means to be tossed along like a capsized boat which is being pushed along the stream and unable to power itself. You see, Martha has all of these things that are so important that all need to be done. All these preparations that have to be taken care of. I don’t do much cooking, but when I try, I don’t know how my wife and all of you good cooks do it, you’ve got this in the oven, that in the stove, you have something on the griddle, this has to be stirred at just the right time, you have let that sit for a few minutes, I don’t know how you can do it! But is life like that for you? You have all of these goals in life, all of these needs, they all have to be done, they’ve become non-negotiable. And if you have so many pots on the stove and in the oven, pretty soon, one thing is getting burned, something else if falling apart and you’re upset. The difference between Martha and Mary is that there is only one thing that Mary needs. Martha needs all kinds of things and so she’s unhappy.
Second thing we see with Martha is she’s irritable. She’s irritable with people who aren’t getting with the program. Irritable with people who are getting in the way of her goals or are not helping her get her life the way her life has to be. “Tell her to help me!” She’s irritable on the outside because of the inner turmoil on the inside.
And lastly notice her suspicion of God. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” She has a little bit of a bone to pick with God. “Don’t you care?” Here she is doing all of this for Jesus and if Jesus really cared wouldn’t he be letting things go the way that she wants? But think about that, if she was really doing it all for Jesus then she shouldn’t be upset when he refuses to let things go the way she wants. In other words, she’s doing it for herself. Do you ever find yourself there? “Lord, I’m doing this and I’m doing that for you. Why aren’t you letting things go the way that I want? Or happen the way that I want? Don’t you care?” Am I doing this for the Lord or am I doing this for me? “Martha, I’m a good manager of my people’s time. I wouldn’t give you 10 things to do in a day if you can only do 3. If you have more than you can do, I didn’t give that to you, you gave it to yourself.”
That’s Martha. But what about Mary? In verse 39 there’s a word in the Greek that’s not translated, it actually reads, “She had a sister called Mary, who [also] sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” That seems to imply that Mary helped, but then she gets down at Jesus’ feet. What does that mean? Getting down and someone’s feet is used in the Bible to indicate more than just a location, but it meant to place yourself under someone else’s authority. So, in other words, what Mary is doing is finding focused time to submit herself to the Word of God.
I remember a professor in school saying something like this, “In every text you preach on there are 1,000 sermons, your job is to preach one of them.” I remember thinking, “1,000 sermons…in every text?? Really?” But then you sit down with focused time and all of these truths start coming. In other words, you can’t just read your Bible for 5 minutes and say, “I’m good.” In fact, something really interesting happens not too long after this. We’re told in John 12 that Mary came in and anointed Jesus with perfume. A bunch of people were upset about the cost of what she did, but Jesus said, she did this for my burial. She got it, she understood, she knew what Jesus was about to do. Over and over again Jesus had told his disciples point blank that he was going to the cross to suffer and die and they didn’t get it. Mary got it. She spent focused and submissive time at Jesus’ feet, she listened.
The one thing that is needed, the only thing, the only thing that won’t be taken from you is the Word. And like Mary we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. Why? Because it is this Word that tells us what we really need to know. It’s this Word that tells us that though we have failed and fallen countless times in life, though we deserve nothing from God but His punishment for having such distracted hearts, though we have often been all too much like Martha – swept along with the stream, He did something. Jesus came because he loves Martha and Mary, and you and me. When he said, “Martha, Martha” it shows incredible love. Whenever that happens in the Bible, it shows incredible intensity and feeling and emotion, when David’s son dies he says, “Absalom, Absalom,” Jesus would say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” It’s incredible love, but Jesus said it again on the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” That’s why Jesus came, so he could speak those words. So He could pour out His blood on the cross for all our sins and win us for eternal life. That is something that is yours. That is the one thing that’s needed and that won’t be taken from you.
So what did Martha do? Did she hear in Jesus’ words the invitation to sit down and receive the one thing needful? That isn’t really what’s important. What’s important is what will you do? What will I do? Will we hear Jesus’ gracious invitation, “Sit down, sit down at my feet and listen to my words of grace, of peace, of pardon, of forgiveness, take some focused and submissive time at my feet, for when you do you won’t be worried and distracted about many things, but you will have the one thing needful and the one thing that won’t be taken away from you.” Amen.