Luke 10:38-42 (NIV) At the Home of Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This passage should not be separated from the Good Samaritan reading (Luke 10:25-37). The lawyer asked the question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds with two answers: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus illustrates the latter with the well-known parable.
The story of Mary and Martha is an example of how to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. So, in my opinion, these two pericopes must always be read together. Martha is an independent woman with money and owns the house. Jesus is not in any way saying that offering hospitality is not important. Indeed, Greek civilisation was oiled by the giving of hospitality, and so it was in Israel.
"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
So, hospitality is vital but it is also true that Martha had distractions and worries. It is this that Jesus focuses on when Martha says that Mary is not helping. Mary, on the other hand, has chosen to listen to Jesus. She assumes the position of a disciple at his feet. It is because of this that Jesus says that Mary's priority is the right one.
Both Mary and the Samaritan were outcasts. For the Jews, both these people would not be considered worthy of hearing God's word and being a disciple. Yet, these two stories told one after the other highlight the inclusivity of the message of Jesus.
We need to challenge ourselves by looking at our everyday routines. Are we allowing distractions to come before worshipping God? We should be truly present in God and feel in as much the same way as we do listening to a piece of music that galvanises us and take us into a different place, transforming us momentarily.
We have to prioritise putting God first and align our lifestyles and our life choices with showing God the glory. What distractions do we have? Are we being too ambitious? Do we spend too much time chasing money? Are we weighed down with worries? By putting God first, these distractions can be sidelined and our focus will remain on God.
We have to rethink our image of God not as a domesticated, tame father but one who challenges us. The true purpose of God is to receive our worship and as Psalm 15 (NIV) says:
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbour,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honours those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
God's purpose for his creation is to be healthy and loved, hence we not only have to look after this wonderful world but also the 7 billion+ people who live in it, each of whom is known personally by God.
As we go out into the world, we know God loves us and cares for us, therefore, our lifestyle and life choices are such that we do what God wants, which is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour, just as Mary and the Samaritan show us.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon