The Book of Luke, Martha Serving, Mary Loving - Lesson 138
Luke 10:38‑42, Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
I remember an incident from my younger days when I was at my sister’s house for some family gathering.
I have three sisters and they were all busily engaged in the preparation of the meal for a very large group.
But I could hear undertones of dissatisfaction coming from my sisters for there was a lady at the gathering, a new wife of my brother-in-law’s brother who did not join my sisters in the work.
Apparently this new woman in the family had a habit of coming to the family gatherings but did not join in the food preparation work.
My how my sisters fumed over this.
Who was she that she could just take it easy while they were working so hard?
So I can understand and I think that all of us can understand how Martha was peeved at Mary for not helping with the preparation.
Now Luke’s gospel is the only gospel which includes this account.
As in all scripture we are to learn from this account and apply its lessons to our lives.
So when Luke decides to include six or seven sentences about two sisters named Mary and Martha, we need to ask Why?
What point is Luke trying to pass on to us?
What are we supposed to learn from this?
The story is a simple story of one of many stops along the many ways that Jesus and his disciples traveled.
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
Luke doesn't tell us the name of the village, since it isn't important to his point, but from John's Gospel we know it is Bethany, just east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of Mt. Olivet.
The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is slightly less than two miles so we would call Bethany a suburb of Jerusalem.
It was the village where Jesus' friend Lazarus lived, and toward the end of his ministry, Jesus stayed there during the Passover that ended in his crucifixion.
The Apostle John introduces us to the family members in two incidents: the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and Jesus' Anointing at Bethany by Mary (John 12:1-8).
Luke tells us simply, a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
The word received means to welcome, to entertain hospitably.
Proper hospitality to travelers certainly would include the preparation of a meal.
Now if you include Jesus, the twelve disciples, Martha, Mary and perhaps even Lazarus there would be a minimum of 16 present for the meal.
And there were perhaps other members of the community present.
So this was quite a contingent for any hostess to deal with and this knowledge provides us with a reason for Martha’s anxiety.
It is obvious from this passage that Martha is the hostess, for she is the one who gives the invitation to the Lord Jesus Christ to come to her house.
There is nothing to indicate that Lazarus lives there nor nothing to indicate that she keeps house for her brother who probably lives nearby in Bethany.
But she is the one to invite the Lord to her house.
Since we don't hear of her husband, she may have been widowed or never married.
Her sister Mary most likely lived with her for from this passage she expected Mary to be fully involved in service throughout the time Jesus was with her in the house.
Mary does not appear to be a guest.
We are told by Luke that Martha has said the Mary left her to serve alone.
Perhaps this indicates that Mary fully participated in the preparation of the meal but sometime in the middle of preparation left Martha to sit at Jesus feet.
In this study we ought to remember that it was Martha that invited Jesus to her house.
So often we think poorly of Martha and think highly of Mary but Martha loved the Lord also and wanted to be his disciple but like all of us she was human and needed his instruction in many things.
While Martha is bustling about the house getting ready for dinner, Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet listening to his words.
The verb sitting means to, "sit down beside someone, "but the rest of the sentence explains that she was actually sitting not directly beside him, which would be a place of honor, but she was sitting at his feet, a place of humility, a place of a disciple or the place of a learner.
This was a radical thing that Jesus would encourage a woman to listen to him as he taught in the house.
Women were openly despised by the Judaism of the time.
Women were even exempt from the study of the Torah.
Many rabbis actively discouraged women from learning.
The Mishnah or rabbinical teachings include these thoughts about women: "May the words of the Torah be burned, they should not be handed over to women."
Rabbi Eliezer (c. AD 90) said, "If a man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery.
But Jesus encouraged Mary to sit and listen to his words.
Most likely you would find Jesus seated in a place of honor, perhaps in the house's courtyard, surrounded by his disciples, and prominent members of the community, and probably Lazarus would also be there along with Mary.
Jesus would be speaking, he would be answering questions, telling parables, and teaching.
All the time Mary sits at his feet and abides in him and his words.
But while this serenity was going on around Jesus a different environment was taking place in the kitchen.
Luke tells us in verse 10:40a, But Martha was cumbered about much serving.
Inside, Martha is fuming as she was concerned about all these guests, concerned about a great deal of cooking, and the setting of the low table where her guests will be seated.
Her mind was filled with the details that had to be done in order for dinner to come about.
There was too much to do! Dinner will be late unless she can get help.
But thoughts such as “where is her lazy sister Mary” moved in her mind.
Mary was sitting outside with the men rather than inside doing the work that needs to get done.
How irresponsible of Mary, Martha’s mind calls out!
I can't understand why she thinks she can be out there when there's so much to do to get ready for dinner.
A woman's place isn't sitting around when there is work to be done.
A woman's place is preparing for her guests.
The word translated “cumbered” means to be pulled or dragged away.' to become or be distracted, to be quite busy, to be overburdened.
Martha had many irons in the fire and she had become frazzled.
You probably know exactly the kind of resentment and indignation Martha is feeling.
Her cumbrance has been going on for some time.
The outburst that is coming is building up from all the duties that she sees must be done.
The implication is that Martha wished to hear Jesus but was prevented from doing so by the pressure of providing hospitality.
Finally, Martha can stand it no longer.
She comes to where Jesus is, and seems to interrupt the conversation he is having.
Luke 10:40b, and (she) came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
She doesn't rebuke her sister in front of Jesus; she seems to be rebuking Jesus himself for not caring, for not having ordered Mary to go and help her sister an hour before.
She doesn't ask Mary to help her.
She commands Jesus, "Tell her to help me!"
Her anger and frustration have taken over.
Regardless of the circumstances Martha is out of line here.
By her command to Jesus she is rude to her honored guest.
Luke 10:41, And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
Immediately, Jesus seems to soothe Martha's anger.
He repeats her name so she pays attention to what he has to say.
He also accurately identifies how she is feeling: "careful and troubled about many things."
Careful in this context means to have anxiety, to be anxious, to be (unduly) concerned.
Troubled means a noise, a tumult, an uproar.
Martha, your mind is in a turmoil for your thoughts are being pulled two ways at once.
Martha is feeling like she has more to do than she can do herself and she cannot stand to see another perfectly healthy woman just taking it easy at the feet of Jesus.
But the response of Jesus is not what she expected.
Nor do I think that those around would expect this as they would most likely have sided with Martha.
She needs help and Mary can help!
But Jesus Christ does not answer Martha as we would answer Martha.
He says: Luke 10:42, But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
So Jesus Christ does not support Martha’s request and is gently corrected by him.
Mary's choice to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to him teach is confirmed.
When you think about it, that response is the one you wouldn't really expect Jesus to make.
In Jesus' culture (and most others), fixing meals is considered part of a woman's responsibility.
And a woman being taught the Torah was frowned upon.
I am sure that Jesus' disciples would have expected him to side with Martha here, and say something like: "Mary, your sister has a lot on her hands.
Why don't you get up and help her.
It would mean a great deal to her" -- or something like that.
It is really remarkable that Jesus DOESN'T encourage Mary to help Martha.
This isn't the first time that Jesus has cut family responsibilities in order to make a point that will be remembered:
Jesus says such things because he is to be preeminent.
He is seeking to make an permanent memorable imprint upon the minds of his disciples.
His followers had been raised to think of one's responsibilities to family as preeminent.
Jesus puts a person's allegiance to following him higher than any other human responsibility.
Luke 10:42, But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
The Lord Jesus tells Martha that even though it means neglecting her regular duties, Mary has correctly discerned that listening to Jesus and learning his ways is more important than anything she can choose.
And no one can take this precious spiritual food away from Mary.
We see in this lesson a higher priority in God’s food then in Martha’s food.
Mary is not to leave God’s food for Martha’s food.
Listening to what Jesus is teaching is the highest way to show him honor and is above any human way we seek to honor him including the finest meal that can be prepared.
There is a saying that the good is the enemy of the best.
Jesus has said that Mary has chosen the best while Martha wants her to settle just for the good.
How often we settle for the good when God wants us to have the best.
This lesson to Martha applies to us and the lesson is that we must be willing to shift our priorities in order to follow Jesus including what is expected of us by family.
Remember the story of the first brothers Cain and Abel.
Genesis 4:2-5, And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
God has preferences on the way people respond to him and worship him.
All forms of worship are NOT equal in God's eyes.
In the case of Jesus, putting on a great dinner for the Master doesn't compare to listening to him and obeying him.
Jesus was as gentle in responding to Martha as possible but he explained how Mary's choice was better, and that she shouldn't be deprived of it by having to be taken to the kitchen by her older sister.
Ladies remember this when you think of the Sunday meal roasting in the oven while the preacher goes a little over the normal time.
So what do we learn from this?
We learn from this that giving your talents and abilities in service to Christ is not the best that you can do.
Giving your time to serve in the choir, or as a Sunday school teacher or as the preacher is not necessarily the best that you can do.
We learn from this that the one thing Jesus Christ seeks above all else is time that you spend time listening to him, "sitting at his feet," as it were.
That needs to come first, before all these other things.
That is where peace is found. That is the only place of spiritual rest.
The message is clear to us.
We are to take off our apron of service and sit at the feet of Jesus and be instructed.
Dinner can wait for Jesus Christ desires to tell you things that are dear to his heart and very useful to you as you serve, for without that which he desires to impart, your service to him will never be what it could be.