Friday, March 8, 2019

Mary Sits while Martha "Steams!"

When we read Scripture, it isn’t always prudent to read it as something that happened last week or even last decade. Sometimes the reason we miss the greater meaning of a passage is because we lack a proper setting for understanding it. So, with that in mind, let me give you just a brief background of 1st century Judea and its treatment of women. The rabbis of Jesus’ day had little use for women. Did you know that...
when Jesus interacts with women, he often violates laws and rules laid down and scrupulously kept by the Pharisees?  So keep this in mind as we look at two sisters in the New Testament. Their story is recorded in Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted. “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.”
     Many scholars feel that Martha was a widow and this home belonged to her. It was just one stop on an itinerate teaching ministry that Christ had and we are told here that Martha opened her home to him. While there would have been some inns available, personal hospitality was an important part of the culture. She most likely was a formidable hostess and in this scene was busying herself with all of the preparations for a dinner for the popular rabbi and some of his followers. She was stressing over all the details of the meal preparation, and at some point in these activities realized that her sister Mary was no longer in the kitchen helping her. She most likely looked around and saw her sitting with the men right in front of Jesus, listening to him teach. This annoyed her to the point that she actually complained to Jesus and told him to tell Mary to help her. (Can you imagine ordering Jesus around!)
   You can be certain that his reply to Martha was not what she expected. There might be more than one reason for that. You see, women weren’t allowed to learn from a rabbi.  And that is exactly what Mary was doing and not very discretely either. She was sitting right at the rabbi’s feet, among all the men, taking in the teaching. How did this happen? I wonder if Martha was scandalized when she saw where Mary was. Perhaps in addition to gaining assistance from Mary, she was also trying to save her from a public scandal. In case you think I’m overstating this, listen to this quote from a 1st century rabbi, “Better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman.”  
 We aren’t told the details of how Mary went from helping Martha in the kitchen to sitting at Jesus’ feet. One thing is certain, she wouldn’t have just casually walked in and plopped down there. That was unthinkable. I think that Jesus did for her what he does for each of us women. He made room for her. He was the rabbi; it was his teachings that she must have been listening to from the back. Did he nod for her to come and join them? Did he quietly ask one of the men to move over to make room for one more? Did he hold out his arm as a signal for her to come on up? We don’t know for sure HOW it happened, but we know it did happen and with Jesus’ approval. Mary, seemingly the more quiet and sensitive sister, was willing to cut across the grain of societal expectations, was willing to forego her domestic obligations, to listen to the words of the Savior.

            And that is exactly what Jesus said to Martha. Martha while you’re concerned and bothered by meal preparations and all it entails, only one thing is really needed and Mary has chosen it. It wasn’t done in a mean-spirited, even exasperated manner, just a gentle rebuke.  What is just as telling is what he didn’t say. He didn’t tell Mary that she should assist her sister. Mary was, after all, the one that was out of order. It was a woman’s duty to do the domestic work. She shouldn’t have left Martha to do it alone. It’s remarkable that he didn’t encourage her to help Martha. But by not doing so, he once and for all elevated the role of women. They were now able to learn and discern for themselves the teaching of God’s Word.
   I suspect that Jesus was most complimentary about the meal that Martha had prepared for him and his followers. He was the guest of honor and he knew the effort it took to make such a meal.

 Yet, it is from Mary that we learn that sitting at Jesus’ feet is the highest honor we can accord him.  You’ve heard the saying, “Good is enemy of the best.” Christ never told Martha what she was doing was wrong and a total waste of her time and talents. Not at all! He just reminded her that Mary had chosen the better. Martha was letting her meal preparation for the rabbi consume her. Sure, we too have meals to prepare and guests to host, but we exhaust ourselves with all our prep work and don’t even enjoy the meal, much less our guests.  I  suspect that the next time Martha entertained Jesus, she cut the menu in half, started her preparations early, and joined her sister listening to the rabbi.

            Just one last thought. After the death of her brother Lazarus, but before his resurrection, it was Martha who looked Jesus in the eye and stated,

 “…All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world,” John 11:27.

Martha knew the truth of Christ’s deity too and she proclaimed it to all in her hearing. Her love and devotion for him was genuine and deep. She had just confused doing for Jesus with Jesus doing for her and we must be on guard lest we do the same.
            Don’t you love the last words that Jesus spoke about Mary, “that good part which will not be taken away from her.”

 We all want to keep the good part of anything. But, what did Jesus mean by this? The Apostle John in I John 2:16-17 reminds us that all that is in this world isn’t of the Father but of the world and the world is passing away. Then he reminds us that those who do the will of God will abide forever.  God’s truths and laws will last forever; they’re eternal. No one can take them away from us. All the things of this world, even the good things that God gives us to enjoy while we’re here, won’t last forever.

The thing that Jesus seeks above all else is the time that you spend listening to him, “sitting at his feet,” so to speak. You do this by reading the Bible and meditating on it. This is where peace is found.

Message by Shari Hervold



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