I'm excited about my church’s summer sermon series.
It’s called Dinner with Jesus.
It’s not a new idea and I know other churches, maybe even yours, have done a series like this.
Basically, we are preaching through a bunch of passages from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus shares a meal with people.
I’m fascinated by what I’m learning.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34).
One of Chester’s main ideas is that sharing meals was Jesus' strategy for ministry.
He was pretty much always at, on his way to, or leaving a meal. It’s very interesting.
Anyway, maybe I just gifted you with an idea for a summer or fall sermon series.
But, that’s actually not the intent of this post.
In preparation for this sermon series, I have been studying Luke 10:38-42 — the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary for a meal.
You probably know the story. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching and Martha is running around like a crazy person getting everything ready.
Yesterday, this story hit me and hit me hard. I have this sense that we as church leaders and pastors need to hear this story.
So, here’s the scene: Martha is in the kitchen, frantically throwing together a feast for Jesus.
She’s a hard worker and a leader.
The text tells us that this house is her house, which is kind of unusual for 1st century Israel, seeing that she is a woman.
Also, she is the one who invited Jesus into her home.
She’s a strong, take charge, action-oriented person.
Maybe you can relate.
The text tells us that Mary is listening at the feet of Jesus.
She is focused on Jesus and His words but Martha is “distracted” which literally means to be “pulled away.”
Now, at first, I’m thinking,
“Come on Martha. You are distracted by the wrong stuff. You need to get focused on Jesus.”
But here’s the problem.
She is focused on Jesus!
In her mind, she is literally serving Jesus.
She wants to do something wonderful for Jesus.
She’s making a huge meal for him.
It’s not that she doesn’t care about Jesus or that she doesn’t want to listen to him.
She’s being distracted — pulled away from listening to the voice of Jesus by activity for Jesus.
Did you catch that?
Her ministry activity FOR Jesus is distracting her from connecting WITH Jesus.
Ok. Moment of vulnerability. I get Martha. I think I am Martha.
And, I’m guessing that you relate to Martha as well.
We are so busy with ministry and church work.
We’re trying to serve Jesus.
We’re working hard to help people understand and connect with Jesus.
Are you starting to feel a little guilty?
Listen to how Jesus confronts Martha when she flips her lid and goes off about how Mary needs to get to work.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” (Luke 10:41-42a)
She is worried — she’s anxious.
And, she’s upset.
Why is she experiencing this emotional turmoil?
I think it’s because she believes she is serving Jesus but she is actually serving Martha.
She has some sort of inner need that she is attempting to meet.
She wants to appear a certain way, she wants to be recognized in a certain way.
She wants her guests to be impressed by her home and her hospitality.
I think she’s actually serving Martha.
Again, I get you Martha.
I’m prone to this myself.
It’s so easy to preach sermons for the compliments in the atrium.
It’s so easy to serve and help people for the thank-you's.
I can relate to Martha.
Now, back to the way that Jesus responds to Martha.
This is important because she is way off.
Her motivations appear to be way off, and now she’s literally telling Jesus what to do, and throwing her sister under the bus.
She is way out of line.
So, Jesus calls her on it. “Martha, Martha...
What’s up with the repeat?
Is she so out of control that he has to get her attention by repeatedly shouting her name? “Martha, get a hold of yourself?!?”
Actually, I don’t think that is what it is.
Think about the times that Jesus or others in the Bible repeat a word or a name.
What’s going on in those passages?
If I’m understanding ancient Hebrew correctly, to repeat a word or a name conveys deep emotion, intimacy and sometimes grief.
- Matthew 23:37. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers chicks under her wings…”. Jesus is heartbroken about what will happen to his people.
- Matthew 27:45-46. “Jesus cries out to His father on the cross. The words are deeply emotional.
- 2 Samuel 18:33. King David mourns for his son Absalom by repeating his name.
Here’s my point: Jesus isn’t angry with Martha.
He’s not yelling at her.
He responds to her wrong thinking and wrong behavior with such gentleness and understanding.
He loves her deeply.
And, instead of addressing her behavior, he goes right to what is going on in her heart.
“You are worried and upset about many things.”
He understands her at a deep level. He knows about her insecurities, fears and motivations.
I find Jesus’ response deeply moving because I get Martha.
I hate to say it but I’m usually much more like Martha than Mary, and Jesus’ words in this story reveal the heart of God toward those of us who are in ministry, working hard FOR Jesus, but often forgetting to slow down and be WITH Jesus.
Jesus is gentle and he gets right to the heart of the issue.
He knows me.
He loves me.
And yet, He corrects me and points me back to what matters.
I wonder if you need to hear this.
Now, a final thought about Mary.
When Martha flips out, Jesus gently informs her that he will, in fact, not tell Mary to get back to work.
"Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary has made the better decision.
She is sitting at the feet of Jesus, which is sort of a technical term that means two things:
- Focused time
- Submissive time
To sit at someone’s feet was to really listen to their teaching and, more than that, to submit yourself to their teaching.
So, here’s the point: It’s not that we shouldn’t be working hard to serve Jesus.
Jesus never condemns Martha for working hard.
If I’m reading the text correctly, he corrects her motivation and her distraction.
As church workers, pastors and leaders, let’s make sure we are creating space for focused time and submissive time with Jesus.
We need time to allow God’s Word to sink in and impact how we live our lives.
And why does this matter?
Well, for the obvious reasons but then there is something else.
Remember that really awkward story about Mary breaking that jar of perfume and anointing Jesus feet?
It’s another dinner at Martha’s place and again she’s serving and Mary does this crazy thing and everyone is upset.
And what does Jesus say about it?
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial." (John 12:7)
It seems like Mary is the only one who understands that Jesus is going to the cross.
The disciples are totally confused and shocked when Jesus is arrested and later crucified.
If I’m reading this correctly, Mary is the only one in the Gospel stories who knows what’s going on.
I wonder if there is a connection to her choice to sit at the feet of Jesus and truly listen — to put distractions aside, that enables her to understand who Jesus is and what He is doing more clearly than anyone else around Jesus.
The disciples listened to Jesus but through the lens of their Messiah expectations.
It appears that Mary listened with an open mind.
I guess what I’m saying is that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the smartest thing we can do as leaders.
Focused and submissive listening to the voice of God, through His Scriptures, opens our eyes to who God is and what He is doing in the world and in our churches.
I hope this has been helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.