A Matter of Faith

Martha and Mary: sisters like us, part two


Howdy, y’all. In Luke 10:38-42 we have been learning about two sisters who lived in the village of Bethany, just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples were walking to that village in the miserable heat and humidity of the day. And, I asked you to join me in walking with them.

Martha had invited Jesus, his disciples and us into her house for a well-deserved respite. Martha, trained since childhood to provide strict hospitality, was busying herself with food preparation, refreshments, soothing water, seating, even tending to sore and dirty feet. Mary was trained to join her sister if Martha motioned or hinted for assistance. After all, Jesus, the disciples, along with us, were nearly overwhelming her house.

But, Mary did the unthinkable that reverberates to this day; women are no longer to be seen in the back, treated like second class within the Body of Christ. Paul, the apostle, even records his hearty approval in Galatians 3:28, “There is no more Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit was breaking the chains and Mary bravely complied.

In using the Greek renderings for “sat” and “listened,” we actually have a clearer understanding of those words. In short, Mary not only weaved her way through the disciples to sit up front, she placed herself at the side of Jesus, a position of note. As Jesus spoke, she didn’t just listen, she sought to hear his words as if straining her ear and leaning forward. What an example she set for us.

Martha was “distracted” with all of the cooking, the rendering being “over-occupied, driven hard” and took note that Mary wasn’t helping her. After continually signaling Mary for help and getting none, Martha took charge. She went straight to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to serve? Tell her to help me.”

When we delve deeper into her words, we see much come to light that our English fails to note. When Martha “went over to Jesus,” it further meant “to suddenly stand over one.” In short, she became a flaming arrow and, with Jesus sitting, stood over him. Now it was Martha who brazenly broke a tradition, not openly confronting a man. But, she was angry with Mary, and frustrated that Jesus was not telling Mary to move away and help her.

That sometimes happens to all of us. When situations befall us, we can feel deeply hurt, overwhelmed, alone, ignored, disrespected or unimportant. It’s a normal response to get miffed and demand that the Lord intervene now. Martha felt just like that when Jesus seemingly ignored her plight.

When Martha went over to Jesus, in front of all, the word “said” is expanded as being “to direct, command, tell.” She was exasperated and forcefully told Jesus to do something about Mary. I have been there, acting as though I needed to forthrightly remind the Lord that he was not caring about me.

Jesus’ response was to call Martha’s name twice, “Martha, Martha.” In biblical culture it was a “hear what I am saying to you” moment. In the Bible, the Lord spoke to but a few that way, declaring that they needed to give ear to him for he was going to give them an important mission or calling.

A few examples: Abraham (Genesis 22:11-12) called to total obedience and faith in God. Jacob (Genesis 46:2-3) called to not fear going to Egypt, that God would make him a great nation. Moses (Exodus 3:4) called to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt’s bondage. Peter (Luke 22:31-32) called to strengthen his fellow disciples when they faltered. Saul/Paul (Acts 9:3-4) called to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles.

So, Martha also heard her name twice, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but few things are needed — indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better [excellent, pleasant, useful], and it won’t be taken [removed, cut off] from her.”

Martha’s angst was understandable, but, at times, we just don’t see very far down the road to understand our priorities. Martha was caught up in the Jewish tradition of required hospitality. In and of itself, hospitality is great; we are all called to be lovingly hospitable to others and those in need. But, our greater priority is to listen to our Lord.

Luke 8:8 records, “Jesus called out, ‘Anyone who has ears to hear should listen and understand.’” Mary positioned herself in the best place to listen and stretched her ear to understand her Savior. In Mark 8:18, Jesus called out, “You have eyes, can’t you see? You have ears, can’t you hear?”

In life, we hear many things, but there are times when we don’t really understand what is said. I’m famous for saying, “Huh?” Having lost much of my hearing, I really need to understand a conversation. We all, and I mean all, need clarity when listening to our Lord and others.

To the dismay of Martha and the disciples, Jesus made it clear that God’s people are often following what seems right rather than knowing what is right. Since the beginning of time our world has been littered with, “Well, I thought I was right,” “OK, OK, I blew it,” or “I can’t believe I totally missed the boat on that.”

Jesus clearly announced to all that Mary would not be cut off from listening to him; it was her spiritual right and no one was to send her to the back any longer. We need to know that Almighty God wants to speak to us; yes, us. Our hearts become full of refreshing joy when we truly listen and understand him.

Coming soon: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

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