Reflections for the Week of July 17, 2016 Ninth after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 10: 38-42. This is the story of Jesus’ visit to the Bethany home of Mary and Martha, two sisters who welcome Him. Martha busies herself serving Jesus, while Mary sits at the Lord’s feet listening to Him. Martha was distracted by her many tasks and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her, but Jesus says that Mary is doing what is best. This is a brief glimpse into a quiet moment at home that is full of meaning.

Mary and Martha represent two ways of life (like the two brothers–the prodigal and the older brother–in Luke 15.11f.). Martha has devoted herself to activity in the service of her guest and her home and family. We know that another family member is Lazarus about whom we learn in John chapter 11. Bethany is a very short distance from Jerusalem to which Jesus and His party of disciples were heading. Martha who is busying herself to make her Guest comfortable is surely pursuing a virtuous end by any perspective. Most hostesses relate warmly to Martha and may even resent the simple criticism she receives from the Lord. If she were not busying herself for her Guest, wouldn’t He lack the comforts that hospitality provides, and even requires? Why isn’t she commended for her attention and courtesy and why isn’t Mary subject to criticism for laziness and even selfishness? Martha seems to be leveling these criticisms at her sister.

But Jesus seems to regard Mary’s attention to Him as more important than Martha’s eager activity. What is the lesson in this domestic scene for us? It must have to do with Jesus’ assessment of what Mary is doing in sitting quietly at His feet and listening to Him. Was it the fact that in sitting by Him she was expressing love and devotion, and this is more important than serving? We learn from Mark 14.3f. and Jn 12.3f. that it was Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet and wept over them and dried them with her hair at a dinner party for Simon, a former leper. There is no question of her love and devotion for Jesus, and surely this is of the greatest importance for those who wish to follow Jesus. Maybe her sitting quietly and listening to Him was more expressive of love and devotion than active service that in itself interferes with a deeper and more attentive devotion. Maybe Jesus is observing that what Mary is doing is committing herself to learning from Jesus. Is He telling Martha (and us) that He wants us to be devoting ourselves with all our energy to trying to understand who He is and what this means for our lives? It is a profound mystery that needs to be unveiled to us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, that is, the King of the universe and the second Person of the Godhead. And then, since these are true facts, it follows that if we understand and trust, then we are adopted children of God and are in Him and He is in us, and He has fulfilled the Law for us and given us His righteousness and we have received eternal life. One can understand why Mary may have been listening quietly and concentrating on what Jesus was saying. Martha was choosing not between a good thing and a bad one, but between a good thing and a lesser good. What Mary was having to do was to try to absorb some very profound insights that we all have to struggle with all our minds, hearts, and spirits to understand. No wonder she was having to sit quietly and try to understand. And if Martha, being busy and distracted, interfered with her understanding, then she was failing to understand something critical. I am reminded of a saying of Blaise Pascal that the trouble with most people is that they cannot sit quietly in their home. What aspects of the Truth that Jesus represents can you think of and enumerate?

Memory Verse: Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her (v. 42).

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