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While Martha invited Jesus into her home and prepared a delicious meal for him, sister Mary gave Jesus the welcome he really wanted.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Luke 10:38-42 NIV
The Better "Dish"
1) If I had been in Martha's house at the time, I probably would have --helped Martha prepare the meal --smiled at all the confusion --been angry at Martha's domineering attitude --sat down with Mary and listened to Jesus --
2) Mary should have --known the guests were hungry and been a proper hostess --told Martha she wasn't hungry --helped Martha with the work; then both would have time to talk to Jesus --ignored everybody and just listened to what Jesus was saying --
3) Jesus' answer to Martha was his way of saying --relax, keep it simple, everything will be OK --back off and let Mary live her own life --you're so busy you are missing the most important part of life --sit down with us and forget the food --your food lasts only a day, but my words are everlasting --
Just look at the contrasts. Martha was flying about in many directions; Mary was peacefully taking some Sabbath time. Martha spoke, telling Jesus what to do; Mary listened, allowing Jesus to tell her what to do. Martha was busy cooking a bountiful meal for her guests; Mary just wanted to eat up every word Jesus said. Martha expressed her love for Jesus by providing for his physical needs; Mary expressed her love by connecting with Jesus' spirit. Martha had her eyes on the immediate urgencies; Mary was focused on timeless treasures.
The sisters were worlds apart. Mary had not noticed, but Martha certainly did. After stewing awhile she let it all out. It happened in the usual way, like it does in all families. Martha needed help in the kitchen. Anxious and annoyed, she hit on Mary. How dare her sister be happy and carefree at a time like this!
But Jesus gently turned the finger pointing around. Martha's problem was not Mary. It was Martha! Her fault was not in her desire to provide an extra special feast for Jesus. He liked a good meal just like the rest of us. Martha's desire was good, but her attitude killed it. Jesus told her it was better to prepare one dish with joy and thanksgiving, than many courses with stressed out anger. A good meal is served with a tinkle, not a glare, in the eyes.
I can sympathize with Martha. A home that is not attentive to the physical needs of its guests is not a comfortable place to be. Someone does have to clean, make beds, prepare food and wash up afterwards. But that's not the point of this story. This is about all of us who, in our attempts to do the right thing, lose perspective and become unloving in the process. We drop the love from our loving service. Martha was not wrong in providing for her guests. That was a choice she freely embraced for herself, and it would have been no problem if she had not tried to impose her agenda onto someone else.
Jesus' #l rule is to love God above all else. #2 is to love our neighbor, or as Jesus also said, "Do to others what you would have them do to you."Another way to look at the Martha and Mary text is to think of Mary as choosing rule #1 to love God, and Mary choosing rule #2 to love God's children. The first rule appeals to our thoughtful, contemplative nature; the second to our energetic, busy side. These two sides complement each other. They are members of the same team, working together, making us whole and complete.
Love is always the right thing to do; it is in season at all times. To love, we must have a loving attitude that corresponds with our desire to serve our Lord. The old refrain says, "Go in peace." When our activity is not performed in peace, it is time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. For some of us, it is long overdue.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe one of your more memorable houseguests.
How important to you is food when you travel or attend an all-day event? Have you ever been so engrossed you forgot about being hungry? If so, explain how that happens.How likely is it that you would choose food for the soul over bread for the body?
Although you don't know this from reading Matthew, Mark or Luke, John's Gospel identified Martha and Mary, along with their brother Lazarus, as friends of Jesus. So this episode was only one of several times they hosted Jesus, which helps explain the tone of familiarity in their speech and actions. Martha felt free to criticize her sister in Jesus' presence. What do you complain about to Jesus? Mary felt free to sit at Jesus feet and listen. When and how do you do that? In what ways does this story show the true essence of friendship?
Several years ago a wise woman told me it's better to spend quality time with my children than attend to the dust bunnies under their beds. How would you describe the difference between what seems urgent and what is important?
When controversies happen at my house, it's usually because --I have difficulty expressing what I mean --someone is being selfish --we'd rather take jabs at each other than listen and try to communicate --people are too busy, or tired, to talk sensibly --
Martha needed help in the kitchen so she asked Jesus to do something about it. Had Mary asked Jesus for something, what might it have been?
Although we may want to debate which sister was the most welcoming, Jesus actually settled the matter. He said Mary chose the better "dish". What does this tell us about Jesus' priorities? What did Jesus value most from the people he met?
Attitude problems! We all have them. Is there someone in your life who tries to rob you of your joy? What have you learned that helps you refrain from lashing out at others? What could a little daily quiet time with Jesus do for you?