Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem where He had an appointment with the cross. As He traveled, He spent time teaching and visiting with people along the way. In this morning’s Gospel, we learn that He stopped at the house of some old friends. This morning’s Gospel tells us of the home of Mary and Martha. We learn from other readings in the Gospel that they had a brother named Lazarus … the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead.
A woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. (Luke 10:38) It is not clear from the text if that meant Jesus only or whether that meant Jesus and His traveling companions. The culture of the day suggests that it would be rude to welcome Jesus but not at least some of His traveling companions. The most likely situation is that Jesus and his disciples are Martha’s honored guests.
Once Jesus was settled in Martha’s home, He immediately began teaching. Here is where things begin to deviate from the culture of that day. Today’s Gospel informs us that Martha had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. (Luke 10:39)
A woman might be well educated in that day if she was a member of the household of a rabbi. She could not help but overhear as the head of the house taught the men of the community. The culture had no problem if a woman learned indirectly as she overheard the instruction given to the men in the community. On the other hand, the idea that a rabbi would enter a woman’s home a specifically teach her was unheard of. Mary was violating the custom of the day by taking up the role of student and Jesus was encouraging her to violate this role by teaching her.
Jesus was breaking down the barriers of the culture. Here is Mary learning from the master of all rabbis and, wonder of wonders, He did not send her away. In fact, He commended her for wanting to learn more about the Kingdom of God. We can’t appreciate how revolutionary this was because we live in culture that encourages women to get all the education that they can get. However, back in the culture of that day, Jesus was being very counter-cultural. This is one of many events that show us that culture had no influence over Jesus. The fact that Jesus had female disciples indicates that His Word … His teaching … is for all people in all times and places.
While Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha was very busy being the hostess. She was following the traditions of the day … the traditions that went clear back to the days of Abraham that we heard about in today’s Old Testament reading. When Abraham saw the three men approaching his tent, he immediately showed hospitality to them. The first order of business was a meal. Martha was simply following the example of Abraham. She was preparing a meal. There’s work to be done! Food to be prepared. Drink to be offered. Comforts to be tended to. As Abraham and Sarah labored to be hospitable to the three men who came to their tent, so Martha with love and devotion diligently conducted her domestic duties. Everything must be the best! Everything must go right! Everything must be done with attention to detail. Jesus has come to the house. Anything less than faithful service would be a great offense to her guests … to Jesus.
So we have two women with two different ideas of hospitality. Mary showed hospitality to Jesus by listening … by hearing the preaching of the kingdom. Martha’s idea of hospitality was to feed Jesus. Mary received the gift Jesus brought to her. Martha was preparing a gift to give to Jesus. Mary and Martha had two different and contradictory ideas about the proper way to show hospitality to Jesus. This difference would soon cause conflict in the house.
Eventually, Martha reached the breaking point. She has had it with Mary’s laziness, but notice, who did Martha choose to scold? She went up to [Jesus] and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40) Martha took out her frustration, not on Mary, but on Jesus Himself. Martha’s priorities were mixed up and she wanted Jesus to validate those priorities.
Jesus gently corrected Martha’s attitude. The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41–42) The point of Jesus’ correction is obvious. Don’t become so busy with the good things of this life that you crowd out the one thing that is needful for eternal life. The problem is not that Martha wanted Jesus to have a good meal. The problem is one of priorities. Jesus must first serve us before we can serve our neighbor.
This domestic dispute between Mary and Martha actually demonstrates one of the major techniques that our old, sinful nature uses to drive a wedge between us and God’s Word. We all have very important work to do … work that is very good to do … work that is helpful to our neighbor. This is good in and of itself, but the Old Adam in us will try to convince us that we must get this work done before we can listen to the Lord. No doubt, Martha wanted to listen, but there was work that needed to be done first. The same thing happens to us. There’s always more work to be done, always someone to help, always jobs to do, dishes to wash, children to feed, homework to accomplish. Nowadays there’s mandatory overtime. There are places we need to go, people we need to visit, shopping that needs to be done, time to spend with family, time spent doing something for someone somewhere. Like Martha, we become pulled in many and various directions, always pulled somewhere other than to the feet of Jesus. Thus we don’t actually rest, we don’t have time to rest. We get tired, worn out, weary from our serving and then we begin to resent those around us. Our “work first rest later” attitude gets the best of our heart. We turn against our neighbor, even calling on Jesus to justify our mixed-up priorities.
Jesus gently, but firmly tells us what’s really going on. We have become anxious about less needful things. One thing is needful – that is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen. Martha needed to stop doing and start listening to Jesus. Jesus did not come to her home to be served but to serve as he Himself said, “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) The center of our interaction with Jesus is not for us to serve Him, but for Him to serve us. We worship Him best when we rest in His service to us.
His service to us always centers on the goal of His journey … His appointment with the cross in Jerusalem. It is on that cross that He serves us with His very life. It is there that He serves us with the forgiveness that provides us with eternal life with Him. His service to us provides us with the salvation that energizes our life in him. We cannot even begin to serve our neighbor until after He has served us with His eternal salvation.
His death on the cross was not the end. For three days later, Jesus came back to life. He rose from the dead, and He now continues to serve us. The words … the teaching … that He shared with Mary have been written down. Jesus continues to give His life to us through the preaching of His Word. His Word connects His heart to our heart. His Word shares His life, gives His life, communicates His life to ours and thus gives us rest.
The word of God does the work of God. The work of God establishes and maintains faith as Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29) Through the Word, the Holy Spirit works in us so that we believe that Jesus is the one whom the Father has sent. Jesus His only-begotten Son, has done the work needful for our salvation. The death and resurrection of Jesus has atoned for our sin and now sets us at peace with our Father in heaven. Jesus has adorned us with His righteousness … a righteousness that endures for eternity.
There is a theological term that applies to today’s Gospel. That term is “Gospel Imperative.” A “Gospel Imperative” has the grammatical form of a command. However, instead of being a command, it is a gracious invitation. For example: Imagine that you are really, really hungry when suddenly you hear the cook shout out, “Come and get it!” Grammatically speaking, “Come and get it,” is a command. In reality, if you are really hungry, those words are a gracious invitation from the cook to come and satisfy your hunger.
When Jesus tells us to listen to Him, it is a Gospel Imperative. God’s Word is Jesus serving us with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. As we listen to Him the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and we receive His good gifts. His gifts come by preaching and His Word, Baptism and Absolution, and His very body and blood.
Our spirits are hungry. God feeds us through His word. It is the means by which Jesus reveals Himself to us and showers us with His gifts. We passively receive His blessings as He serves us. This is especially true of the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus earned for us on the cross. Jesus wants us to have these gifts. That is the reason He taught that His Word is the one thing that is necessary.
The Son of God has prepared the meal. He has said, “Come and get it!” Hungry souls come and get forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Amen
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