To be Jesus is to be love. To that end, Jesus loved people, all the people. He loved faithful men such as the disciples as if they were His own kin. He loved faithful women for the great faith that they demonstrated and for their service to Him and His ministry. We see in our text today the love that Jesus had for two such women — Mary and Martha.
St. Luke doesn’t record much for us here in our text. In summary, Jesus and company enter a village, encounter Martha and are invited to her home, a home she shares with her sister Mary. This is the same Mary and Martha whose brother Lazarus Jesus’ raises from the dead. Little is known of these two ladies because not much is written in Scripture about them. From today’s text, it appears that once again Jesus has been invited to a meal. As it takes time to prepare a meal, Jesus does what He does best and that is teach. It is not recorded for us what the basis of His teaching is, but obviously it has captivated the ears of Mary, “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” We have no indication what His teaching was but it was captivating… or was it?
As Mary was sitting and listening, Martha wasn’t. Luke tells us, “But Martha, was distracted with much serving.” For the two women, it came down to priority. What was the greater priority: listening to Jesus or serving Jesus? Mary and Martha could each give their reasons for their actions.
Now, both sisters face a choice as to how they will spend their time with Jesus. Martha hustles and bustles in the kitchen, arranging pots and pans, firing up the stove to prepare a meal. Her time is devoted to preparing the table, the food, or the many things necessary to serve Jesus. It’s possible that some of the other disciples were there and hungry also. For Martha, her main priority when Jesus visits is preparation for serving a meal.
Mary, on the other hand, just sits. She is nestled in the comfort that is found sitting at the feet of Jesus. She is there, listening to every word that Jesus speaks and she is all ears to what is being said. It is quite rare that one would have such an intimate visit from Jesus like this and Mary was not about to squander such an opportunity.
Jesus coming to dine with Mary and Martha is summed up in priorities. Each woman has her own priorities when it comes to Jesus. Which sister has the right priority? It may seem that Martha has the right priority. She has a guest in her home. When a guest shows up, you don’t ignore them. Your priority is to make sure that their needs are met, because that’s what a good host does. And that is what Martha sets out to do. She wants to insure that all of Jesus’ needs are met while He is in her home.
Certainly we can’t fault Martha for her servant attitude. From all accounts, it appears that she is the ideal hostess. But we cannot forget our Lord’s own words: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We can certainly appreciate what Martha desires to do, but she forgets that our Lord’s duty is to serve, that is, serve the will of the Father by taking on the form of man, to be born of flesh and blood in order to live a life that is without sin, to go to the cross in order to serve man by becoming man’s sacrifice, a sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.
Mary has the right idea about Jesus. She sits at His feet, listening ever attentively to what He has to say, and so she should. Peter’s words are echoed in what we see taking place in this house: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Those are familiar words to us, as we sing those words prior to our Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Mary desires for that good news, the saving act of Jesus Christ for her, but not only for her. She desires that good news for her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, but not only for them. She desires that good news for all whom Jesus has come to save.
We live in a world whose view is that we are doing something for Jesus, as if our lives are one that we’re doing a favor for Jesus. But we are not the ones doing a favor for Jesus. Rather, it is Jesus who does us a favor, a favor that we can never repay, for He becomes our substitute before the Father. He takes our sin upon Himself and in return gives to us His holiness and righteousness as we stand before the Father. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is solely because of that fact that means we cannot do anything for Jesus, for what can we do that is greater than what He has already done for us?
Frustrated, Martha pleads to Jesus to have Mary help her. He doesn’t dress her down in His response. He doesn’t respond in anger. He doesn’t give any indication that He is upset. Instead, He reminds her just exactly what Mary is doing. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Focus on the words of Jesus here. He reminds Martha that “one thing is necessary.” What is that one thing? It’s not making sure the house is cleaned and dinner is done before Jesus arrives. No, the one thing that is necessary is that Jesus has come! He comes for you, to provide for you and to care for you, to give you what you need most — the forgiveness of all of your sins; not just some of them of most of them, but He comes to forgive ALL you your sins, for to be made holy means to be without sin COMPLETELY, for that is the only way to be given the gift of eternal life — to be without sin. And on account of Jesus Christ, you stand before God the Father with ALL of your sins forgiven.
Jesus also reminds Martha that Mary “has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus can most certainly say that mean that for He reminds us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Those are words that we need now more than ever. Amidst all the death and devastation that occurs what seems to be daily in these gray and latter days, we are reminded, no, we cling to Jesus’ words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” for these are our words of comfort when we are beaten down, when we feel forsaken, when we think that Satan finally has the upper hand on God. And when we start to think like that, we are reminded of the words of Jesus that He spoke to the disciples that are just as true now as the day He spoke them: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
How can anything or anyone be more important than the gift which our Lord gives to us? How can you and I neglect such eternal blessings that come from Christ and His Word of forgiveness? With everything that our Lord says and does, you would think that we would flock to Jesus and the salvation that He grants to us. But instead, we find that the opposite is true. We flock towards those things that bring earthly pleasure and make us happy. We flock to those things which may promise eternal life in heaven, but in the end, fall flat on their empty promises. The promise that Jesus makes for you is one that is indeed most certainly true. This is not like any other promise that you have ever heard or will ever hear again, for this promise of Jesus will give to you eternal life.
When being a Christian may seem unpopular, when following Jesus is ridiculed, we humbly sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. We receive the riches and treasures of heaven, for Jesus has promised, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.