Jesus, Mary, and Martha in an African Painting
(…continued) So now consider Mary and Martha who actually did face that very situation. What do you do when Jesus comes to visit? “Well,” thought Martha, “you work hard to make sure that you are the very best hostess you can be. You run around cleaning the house, slamming shut all the closet doors so Jesus doesn’t see all the extra clothes, and you cook up the very best meal you can.” That’s what you do when Jesus comes to visit, Martha would say. Jesus has been out on the dusty roads and trails day after day, dealing with the crowds and with his enemies, and he probably hasn’t a decent home-cooked meal in a long time; so of course, you are going to serve him the very best.
But Mary had a very different approach to the visit. She was probably thinking something like this: “Jesus is the most popular and well-respected teacher to be born into Israel in many years. Some people are even saying that he might be the long-awaited Messiah. People from all over the country are coming to hear his words. And today he is in our house, so I am going to sit down and listen to him. I am not going to spend the day slaving away in the kitchen. The best way to honor Jesus is to listen to him, so that is how I am going to spend this day. When mealtime rolls around we can grab a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese. That is more the style of Jesus, anyway. But I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to spend this time with Jesus.”
And what does Jesus do? He said, “Mary has chosen what is better.”
But take note, Jesus did not say that right away, and, he did not tell Martha to stop what she was doing. He said that only in response to Martha’s harsh criticism of Mary, and her demand that Jesus tell her to get to work. Until Martha said that, Jesus was simply letting each woman do what they chose to do. The focus to the text is on paying attention to Jesus, and as you can see, both women are doing that. Martha is paying attention to him by getting ready to feed him, and Jesus doesn’t stop her. Mary is paying attention to him by listening to his every word, and Jesus praises her for that. Even after Jesus defends Mary from Martha’s criticism, he does not tell Martha to quit working and sit down. He just says that he is not going to tell Mary to get to work, because, he said she has made the best choice. But he doesn’t say that Martha made a bad choice and was wrong in getting the meal ready. He gently warns her about getting worried and upset about too many things, and he reminds her to not forget about the one thing that is needed most of all. But he doesn’t tell Martha to sit down and be quiet and listen. He allows her to continue with her chosen way of paying attention.
The first lesson is that we too should pay attention to Jesus. But there is also another lesson, and that lesson is that there are many different ways that we can pay attention to Jesus. There are many different ways to be a Christian. Some, like pastors, are called to full-time work in the church. Most others have other jobs, but pay attention to Jesus by worshiping at church, and serving the church in a variety of ways. Some folks know their Bibles forward and backward, and serve the church as teachers. Others, may not know Matthew from Malachi, but you can depend on them to be on hand when a window in the sanctuary needs fixing. And still others, like Martha, are great in the kitchen, and can be found there whenever food is required at a church activity.
There are still those who sell everything they have a give it to the poor and serve in poverty in remote places. Jesus calls some people to that kind of service, like he called on the rich young ruler in the Gospels to do that. Most others can’t do that, and that is why Jesus did not call on too many people to do that. Zacchaeus, for one, seems to have kept his job as a tax-collector, but vowed to use his wealth to help others, starting by repaying those he had cheated in the past. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and not defend him. In the book of Romans, we read that some people serve God by bearing the sword for the God-ordained governing authorities. Some, like Martin Luther, served God by rebelling against the church, and reforming it. Others, like Thomas Moore in the same time period, served God by being loyal to the church, and seeking to be an honest and pious voice within it.
There are many ways to be a Christian, many ways to serve God, and many ways to pay attention to God. The important thing, says Jesus in Luke 10, is that you do not forget that one thing that is needed most of all, that you do not forget God and faith and prayer. So if Jesus came to your house this evening, you could show your honor by serving him on your very best china and with the most expensive meal money can buy. That would honor Jesus, just like the great and expensive cathedrals of the world honor Jesus with their magnificent beauty. Or, you could honor Jesus with a humble meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, served on paper plates, while you spend every minute he was there hearing his word and learning from him. You can’t go wrong if you goal is to pay attention to Jesus, either by serving or by hearing. But you don’t want to neglect Jesus; you don’t want to forget about faith, that one thing needful, and not let Jesus into your house or your life. There are lots of ways to be a Christian, but one way to not be a Christian– and that is to not pay any attention to Jesus in any way.
There is a great blessing in this story. Just as Jesus was a guest in the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus wants to be a guest in your home and in your life– every day he wants to be with you. And, Jesus wants you to be with him. He wants your attentiveness, he wants you to hear his word, he wants you to serve him. There is that command in the story for all of us, that we not get distracted and forget that one thing needful. But then beyond the command, there is great freedom. Not everyone has to do everything. We can all find our chosen ways to pay attention and to serve. And in those ways we pay attention to that one thing needful our lives are blessed, both now and forever.
Luke 10:42 — (Jesus said), “One thing is needed…”
Matthew 6:33 — (Jesus said), “…Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Hebrews 2:1 — We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
O God, give us work till our life shall end, and give us life till our work is done. –An old prayer