Jesus was on a collision course with destiny…to die. The journey to Jerusalem will include a visit in the tiny village of Bethany 3 miles outside the city walls, where three of Jesus’ friends lived: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
In my mind, I picture Martha as the oldest of the trio. The parents had died, and the three were left with the house. Martha had the responsibility of raising Mary and Lazarus, a task she took very seriously. The deaths left Martha shouldering the domestic and financial load.
The experience shaped her into a task-oriented individual, forcing her to be organized with many to-do lists. She possessed an air of self-sufficiency that only hid her own self-doubts and insecurities. Tied up in her religious fervency was a works mentality that focused on a task-oriented experience using should and oughts and self-imposed commands: “I must be busy,” “I must be doing,” “I must be the servant,” “I must…”
Mary, on the other hand, was the visionary, the idealist, the dreamer, the philosophical one and probably the most sensitive of the two. She was not caught up in doing as much as Martha would have liked. There was an edgy feeling at times between the sisters.
In the 1954 Irving Berlin musical White Christmas, Judy and Betty Haynes (played by Rosemary Clooney and Trudy Stevens) sing the song, “Sisters.” The lyrics read that there were never two more devoted sisters who cared and shared every little thing. In all kinds of weather they stuck together. Even in the edgy times of their sisterly relationship Mary and Martha could have sung that song; they stuck together in the hard times of life.
When Jesus came to visit, their different focuses were obvious and caused friction. Because of the friction, Jesus found time to teach some lessons.
Lesson One: Misunderstanding Leads to Missed Needs (v. 40)
Some commentators believe the Greek construction of the wording is emphatic that the He comes indicates the disciples traveled on to Jerusalem while Jesus remained in the home of His friends.
Organized Martha had a hard time with an interruption in her schedule, even if it was a close friend. She smiled and then politely dismissed herself to the kitchen to put together a meal. It was tough preparing a meal for three. The added burden of a guest meant the meal needed to be a little fancier. Martha donned her apron and worked over the hot flames. She peeled, sliced and diced. It was getting hotter in the kitchen, and gnats swarmed through the open windows. The hotter the fire became, the hotter Martha grew toward Mary, who was just sitting in the living room talking!
She had become distracted by serving! Overburdened, she misunderstood the needs of Jesus at that moment. Jesus had not come for a fancy meal. He came to see them. He needed an oasis of fellowship and peace. He needed friends because He was on His way to die. He wanted Martha’s attention, not her food.
The lesson for us is to be sensitive to what people need! Are we working so hard with the details that we miss the reason we are doing what we are doing? Have we missed giving them the attention they need?
Lesson 2: Don’t Miss the Serendipity Moments of Learning (v. 39)
Martha stormed out of the kitchen to find Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. One commentator said the Greek construction of the words indicates this to be the position of a student learning from a teacher. So Mary was gaining knowledge from the Master Rabbi, a serendipity moment which was more important to her than serving Him supper!
The lesson for us is to serve in some ways for Christ and community; but before we serve, we must learn what is in Jesus’ heart for every service project in which we engage!
Lesson 3: Don’t Miss the Jesus Agenda for Life (v. 42)
Bruce Larson said Martha’s social proprieties kept her from focusing her attention on Jesus and His agenda for her life. Our goal is to make God and His presence in our lives our primary focus. When we do that, it will bring focus to our families, jobs, community service, friends and faith. Jesus is the key to everything in your life. Are you a Martha or a Mary?