“Now it happened as [Jesus] went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.” Luke 10:38 …And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10: 39-42)
I recently put together a fairly elaborate luncheon for a group of ladies. I’d put a lot of thought and effort into it, wanting it to be sort-of-like a seventh inning stretch for them — a sort of coach’s halftime speech that would give them a sense of accomplishment for their work so far, refresh them, and then inoculate them with the energy and enthusiasm to crank out the last ounces of their strength and finish the game.
As they nibbled on their morsels, I remarked to them that this was going to probably be my finest hour, the penacle of parties, and it was going to all be downhill from here. One of the ladies piped up saying that I didn’t really need to go to so much fuss and bother, that she was just as tickled with a loaf of bread and simple assortment of lunch meats. As long as she didn’t have to cook it, or clean up from it, she was totally happy. The other guests agreed.
That’s when the scripture about “Martha, Martha” and Jesus popped into my head. And I have to also say, I love how the scriptures are so honest with Martha’s wording of her question to Jesus, “Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” By her words I’m almost certain Martha was probably a firstborn. I’d even venture a guess that she and her siblings may have lost their parents at a young age and Martha assumed the role of mother to her brother and sister. I only wonder this because the three of them are always together, but there is never any mention of parents or spouses. Mary fits the model of a second born – an opposite of the firstborn. The oldest always feels like they have more responsibilities than the other kids, and that younger siblings get away with slacking off much more than they do.
Martha had obviously been brought up with manners and knew how to entertain guests. I bet she kept her house spotless clean, dishes done, beds made with fresh linens, and smelling great with scented candles and such. When Jesus stayed I’m sure she tried hard to make sure everything was perfect for Him. Maybe she laid a mint on His pillow and bottle of water on his nightstand. Perhaps she washed his clothes for Him. And what a sweet surprise it would have been to have them pressed and hanging in the bathroom for Him when He got up to shower in the morning. With a name like Martha you have to think she probably did crafts, gardened, was an amazing decorator, and most assuredly a fantastic cook too! Or maybe it is Martha Stewart I’m thinking of? Ha!
Scripture says the Mary/Martha/Lazarus family lived in Bethany. Luke says Jesus came to their village and that’s where He met Martha. I often wonder what Martha was doing when Jesus came through? Was she planting flowers in front of her home, or sweeping off the sidewalks when Jesus passed by? Was she at the market or on her way home and they met in the street? I wish I knew how their paths had crossed? What had He said to her that prompted her to invite Him to her house? And what did she make for supper? Even more intriguing…what did Jesus like to eat?
Like Martha I am a firstborn, with a lot of things on my mind. Always a million plans on my heart. I admire Martha wanting to make her guest comfortable and happy. If she is anything like me she probably spent all week deciding on what to make for supper after extending that invitation, and then shopped all over town for the freshest and finest ingredients. I wonder if she scrubbed and dusted and made sure everything was perfect, like I certainly would have. From the cleaning of the bathrooms to the chopping of vegetables, I imagine she stayed busy. And I’m pretty sure Jesus not only cared, but that He noticed, and was grateful.
In fact the more I look at it from my recent experience with the ladies, the more the tone of His response seems to sweetly suggest that she didn’t need to go to so much trouble and fuss for Him; that she had made way too much food and preparations; and that a simple dinner would have done fine. I think Jesus appreciated Martha’s efforts greatly, but what I see that He desired rather than an extravagant meal was the pleasure of her company, which is where Mary comes in.
Jesus often broke the social molds of the age and this is one more example. Mary was allowed to sit at Jesus’ feet and be taught. That was a luxury reserved for the men in those days, but Jesus let Mary be seated in the congregation around Him instead of sending her away to do women’s work. In fact, Jesus wanted Martha to put down the spatula and oven mitt and partake as well.
Jesus loved Martha (John 11:5) and her sister, and their love for Him was mutual, but I see each was different in return. John 11:2 and 12:3 says it was this Mary who anointed Jesus with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair (Matt.26:7). That makes me think Mary (as the Greeks would say) “eros” loved Jesus – with a deep, familial, affectionate love. Martha “philos” loved Jesus, with a brotherly, giving, serving love. And Jesus “agape” loved Mary and Martha, with unconditional, sacrificial love.
God had gifted Martha to serve, and her gift is important. If she hadn’t been there, Jesus would have maybe starved. He’d have had to probably sleep on the cold hard floor or worse, on the street. As special as Martha’s gift was, though, it’s only part of the total package of hospitality. I believe John 12:2-3 lists the total package: Martha served, Lazarus sat, and Mary anointed. As a guest in their home Jesus was provided for, kept company, and well-regarded.
Those two girls, whether they realized it or not, were a pair. Together these two women demonstrate what I think are the two sides of hospitality, giving and receiving (and Lazarus was there to talk sports, right?).
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out His disciples two-by-two and ends with Mary and Martha?
“After these things the Lord appointed seventy other [disciples] also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10: 1-9)
I feel like the kingdom of God has come near me today. As much as I love to serve, I have to remember that it isn’t fair to impose my ways on anyone (we are all gifted differently), or expect someone is being lazy who doesn’t share my vision. I need to put away distractions sometimes and just sit at Jesus’ feet, probably a lot more often than I actually do.
And when I do serve, I’m going to try to KEEP IT SIMPLER so that I can receive from the Lord what He wishes to teach me, rather than trying so hard to impress my guests.
It is so true what Jesus says in Matthew 13:17, “For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” I sooooo wish I could see how very different Martha’s first supper for Jesus was from that last one with Him after her brother came back to life?