By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 17, 2022
Luke 10:38–42 (ESV)
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
When I read scripture, I am challenged. If you have known me for a while, you might know that I am opinionated. I try extremely hard to avoid political conversations because I will make everyone upset. I make people upset because I tend to pull out areas that people have not thought about and I ask questions concerning those areas. This is part of my personality. I try to encourage people to think a bit deeper than talking points when making their decisions. And because of this you all probably think that I agree with you, until you ask me a question. After that, you will regard me as the very problem with the world.
I am not proud of this aspect of my personality. At times it is good, but there are other times where I just wish I would shut up and let things be. I have had close friends ask me questions, I have tried to avoid the question and even warned them that they would not want me to answer the question, because I am not an either-or type of person. To me the world is rarely black and white, I rarely find a yes or no answer, but tend to look at things through situational awareness. I look for the exceptions, and if we have not spoken to those exceptions satisfactory, I will drag my feet. I do this because the exceptions are usually the ones that affected the most. I have lost friends because of this aspect of my personality, and it saddens me, but it is who I am.
It is generally better for people to get an education, go to college and get a job. But there are exceptions to this. Bill Gates, love him or hate him, did not finish college and he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. Generally, it is better for pastors to go to bibles college and get a degree, it is even better if they go on and receive graduate degrees and even complete doctoral studies. But there is an exception to this, George Fox the person most regard as the founder of the Society of Friends from which our Church finds its roots, did not go receive a traditional education and his contemporaries often regarded him as illiterate. And yet he spoke passionately, authoritatively, and often the things that he promoted and were regarded as heretical when Friends first began have since been affirmed in many ways through scholarship. Generally, we can make many statements and many of those statements would be right most of the time. But what about the exception, will we deny God’s ability to do great things because of generality? That flies in the face of the miraculous.
If you have come here for political advice, I am not your source. But I will encourage you to look deeper. God has given me the gift of being annoying. We cannot dictate what gifts we are given, and at times we may not be able to tell if what we are given is a gift or not. That is not the point. God has made us who we are so that we can bring glory to him through our unique perspective and encourage others to do the same.
Last week we spoke about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I mentioned that Jesus purposefully gave this parable to shock the people listening to him. He told this story to especially cause the established religious leaders to look deeper into what they are teaching, to draw them into the deeper conversation within the word of God. What was that deeper conversation?
We do not and cannot control God. We in all our pious zeal can be blind to the truth. And God can do extraordinary things with the unexpected, so we should generally be open to the exceptions. Many may not realize but this interaction with Mary and Martha is a continuation to the story we looked at last week. Last week we saw that even the enemy of Israel, could be a neighbor to someone in need, and that in the eyes of Jesus this was good. It is good because love, the love that God has for his creation, does not recognize boarders, political systems, races, or anything else that we use to divide and label those around us. To God there is only humanity.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.” I want us to stop and consider this for a moment. I have mentioned often that Jesus not only taught us how to live a life with God, but he showed us, he lived that life and lifestyle before our eyes. At least before the eyes of his disciples. When Jesus sent the disciples out in groups to proclaim the good news, he told them something. He said to them not to take extra food, not to pack their bags, or take spending money. He told them to stay with those that welcomed them and if they were rejected to knock the dust off their sandals and keep moving. Jesus is showing them this lifestyle in this passage.
He entered a village, and Martha the matron of the house welcomed them into her home. We know Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. We know that they are friends of Jesus, such dear friends that when Lazarus died, Jesus wept. We are not told how this friendship began. Church traditions have noticed this lack of information and they have tried to fill that gap, but the truth of the matter is that we just do not know. What we do know is that Martha welcomed them into her home, and Jesus stayed with them and accepted whatever was provided to him.
“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” When rabbis taught, those that listened would gather around and sit with their teacher. The closer to the rabbi showed how devoted you were to them. To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that you were one of his disciples. The disciples were those individuals who were called to live life with the teacher. They walked where he walked, they ate what he ate, they lived where he lived. They took on their rabbi’s lifestyle, and eventually they would continue their rabbi’s teaching. We know the twelve disciples; we know that they followed him wherever he walked but there are instances within scripture where there is someone else in this position that causes our eyebrows to raise just a bit.
A few weeks ago, we met one such person, the demon possessed man that lived among the swine. We were told that when the people from within the town came out to see what was going on, they saw the demoniac clothed and sitting at Jesus’s feet. Jesus was then asked to leave their land because they were afraid. We are often told that they were mad because of the loss of pigs, but it was much deeper than that. They were afraid because they were not Jewish, and this man possessed by demons they believed was being controlled by one of their gods. Jesus overturned their world view and the sign of this was the man in his right mind sitting at Jesus’s feet, and just incase people did not believe it they had a secondary witness from everyone that lost swine that day.
That man sat at Jesus’s feet, and he expressed a willingness to follow Jesus wherever he went. Jesus had a different plan for that man. He commissioned that man to go to his community, to tell them everything that God had done for him. That man became an apostle, and he proclaimed throughout the land, all that Jesus did for him.
That man was siting at Jesus’s feet, and he was sent on a mission. To sit at a rabbi’s feet is special, and rabbis would not allow just anyone to take that position. Just like today a student would have to prove that they were a worthy student. Today we fill out applications, we must have references and they need to provide information to the institution to let them know that this person is a worthy student. And if everything checks out you can attend. Rabbis had a similar process, different yes, but similar. Disciples had to live the rabbi’s lifestyle, so many could not afford it. And you had to have a recommendation from another rabbi, meaning you would have had to prove your knowledge and wisdom before hand within your local synagogue. This is where Jesus rocks the boat a bit. I just mentioned that a gentile was sitting at Jesus’s feet. Later in Luke we will see that Jesus allowed Samaritans to in that position, and today we see Mary. A woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, sitting in the position of a disciple. Women were not allowed into the area of the synagogues where the rabbis taught. It was very uncommon for a woman to be in this place being taught by a rabbi. It is generally not accepted. But there are exceptions to that generally accepted rule, because God will use those that are willing to participate in his kingdom to accomplish his kingdom’s work. Some of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Scriptures are just such women. Women like Deborah, Ruth, Esther, and Judith.
We have Martha here welcoming Jesus and his entourage into her home, and we have Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was distracted with much serving. Martha often gets a bad reputation because of this story. Throughout church history teachers have used Martha’s busyness to speak out against salvation through works. Even today you could pull up YouTube sermons across the world that will speak poorly about Martha criticizing her for being distracted with much serving, saying that she was attempting to find favor through works instead of grace. I want us to give Martha a break. Jesus loves her, she welcomed Jesus into her home, and she was serving her Lord.
I am not saying that there was nothing wrong with the situation though. Martha was distracted with much serving. Martha was distracted. She was busy doing the very thing she was called to do, the very thing she wanted to do for her lord. A thing that was honoring not only Jesus but was something that honored God. Israel was commanded to supply hospitality by Torah, and Martha is obedient. But Jesus rebuked her because she came to him saying, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” I want us to contemplate this scene today. I want you to put yourself in Martha’s shoes and listen to that rebuke. It is heart wrenching. Jesus looks at her and speaks to her both gently and with firmness. He gently speaks her name not once but twice. He can see the stress boiling within her mind and body. He knows that she is nearing her end. And he speaks her name twice, to get her attention.
We are all stressed. Many of us are stretched to our breaking point and we continue to add more to our schedules and stretch ourselves thinner. And there are times where we just want to cry, even the men. But that is not the sin, that is not what caused Jesus to rebuke Martha. It is not exactly wise, and Jesus does address this. He tells Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Scholars debate over what Jesus means here. Is he telling her that it is ok to just set out a box of cereal and some bowls? Or is it something more? Yes. Mom’s, I encourage you to give great nutritious meals to your children. I pray that you will be blessed with the house of your dreams, but I want you to know that it is ok to let the laundry sit in a basket at times, and your kids will not be traumatized if you serve mac and cheese with hotdogs occasionally. Fathers, I hope you have a great job that will provide everything you want for your family. But it is ok to allow yourself time to just sit and watch a tv show with your kids. And I am fully aware of the generalization within those statements. I know moms work and dads can stay at home. I know that most families today have both parents working one if not two jobs. The point I am trying to make is to take a day to relax. Take time to catch your breath. And take things one at a time.
The schedule is not what Jesus was rebuking in Martha. The stress Jesus addressed, but it is not main point of Jesus’s rebuke. Martha sinned not because she was busy, but because she wanted Jesus to make her sister do something that she wanted her to do. She wanted Jesus to require her sister to take part in the activities that Martha deemed most important. Martha sinned not because she was busy, but because she desired to control those around her, and was not allowing them to serve according to their own giftedness.
My sister, brother, and I are similar in many ways. We all are very opinionated. We are all passionate. We are all brilliant and talented in our own ways. And that is the key. In our own ways. We are similar, but we are also very different. My brother is more technically minded than I am. I can do quite a bit with technology, and I even know how to use a variety of tools. It might even surprise some of you to know that I can even use a welder. That is not who I am. I can do it, but it is not my passion. My sister loves making things beautiful. When Kristy and I moved into our first apartment together, my sister came in and decorated. My idea of decoration is furniture, a Star Wars calendar turned to a month within this year, and bookshelves. My sister owns an antique store, she restores furniture, so it is safe to sell, and her store looks like you walked into a Rockwell painting. My brother has a job in networking and gets excited about installing smart locks and firewalls. And I like to read and talk about what I read. Although we are similar, we are completely different. We know this about our siblings, our children, our friends, and coworkers. We know this and yet we get upset with them because they do not do what we want, and how we would do it.
Martha’s sin was not the busyness within her life. That was her ministry, her gift, and her calling. She pursued that with everything she had, and she did get overwhelmed. That is not sin, but lack of wisdom that can lead to sin. Martha’s sin entered when she began blaming her own shortcomings on her sister, Mary. She sinned when she began demanding that God command her to take part in the culturally accepted generality. She sinned because she forgot one thing. We are all unique and called to different things.
We look at this passage and we often encourage everyone to be like Mary and not Martha. I do not want us to look at these women in that way. I instead encourage you to be you. But be aware of your own limitations. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed it is fine to ask for help, but it is also ok for those you ask to say no. It is fine. It is not the end of the world.
Jesus closes out his rebuke by saying, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Is Jesus telling Martha that Mary is better than her? Is he telling Martha that she should be more like her sister Mary? No. He is simply telling Martha that Mary is different, she has chosen to pursue what is good for her, and Jesus is not going to take that away. Mary and Martha have different personalities. They have different passions. Martha finds her fulfillment in hospitality and Jesus honors her in that. Mary has a different desire. She desires knowledge, her desire is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn. Jesus honors Mary in that.
We as religious leaders of various traditions have failed many. We encourage those around us with the generalities instead of speaking to the exceptions that make each of us unique. Is it wrong to say that in general women are more often the care givers? No, it is a generally the truth. But it is wrong to say that women are only allowed to be care givers. I would not be standing here today if the women in my life lived according to the generalities. My mother was a business owner. She passionately pursued her degree and to serve within her own giftedness. Those that encouraged me the most during the formative years of my faith were women, living their lives through their own giftedness. They were the exceptions to the rules society often taught.
Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” What is Jesus saying? Is he telling us to read the bible more? Is he telling us to serve the community more? Is he telling us to sit in silence, do penitence, go to church? No. He is telling us to find that one thing that God has created us to pursue and pursue it with everything we have. He is telling us this because when we find that one thing that sets our spirit on fire it is in that one thing, we will be most able to Love God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves. He is also telling us that we as a community should make every effort to encourage and support those around us in this. If we know someone that is passionate about computers, we should go to them before we go to best buy. If someone is passionate about art, we should buy their artwork if we are able and encourage them to use their art to bring glory to God. If someone you know wrote a book, buy it even if it is not your favorite type of book. Why, because that is what a community is for. We are here in this place at this time to encourage people to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with others. We can only do this if Martha is living into her gift of hospitality, and if Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus. We can only do this if pastors preach, and teachers teach. We can only do this if mechanics are fixing our vehicles and people that love to drive are giving us a ride. We can only live life loving God and our neighbor if we are willing to let those around us be exceptional.
As we enter this period of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I want us to consider Mary and Martha. I want us to consider our friends and the members of our family. And I want us to repent. I want us to repent because we have been instruments discouragement and we need to change. We have told people they cannot do. Not because they are not gifted but because we are afraid of what people might think. God called Mary to be a disciple of Jesus, a woman, and Jesus would not take that away from her. Would we?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.