May 30, 2016

Martha, Martha...

"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

There are some Bible stories that I've heard since childhood and I find myself not really reading them because I know them so well. Been there. Seen that. Nothing new. (Yawn) Well, I've been praying to look at the word of God as if I have never seen it before. To let go of my preconceived notions and assumptions and to see it with fresh eyes.

Well we had a good discussion about this passage of scripture about Mary and Martha yesterday and it got me looking at it again. Most of us have read this numerous times but I took another look at this old story and saw some stuff I'd never seen before. So here goes...

I always assumed in this story that Jesus was ticked at Martha. It sure would have been understandable. After all, she was pretty dang brazen to chastise the Son of God in front of everyone like that. I pictured Jesus schooling her in front of everyone. I could see the approving crowd, nodding and agreeing, “Mmmhmm, you sure told her Jesus!”.

But at the same time, although she obviously needed an attitude adjustment, to me it still didn’t seem completely fair to Martha. Anyone who’s had to fix a meal for a large group of people will understand me here. I mean, they had to eat. This is Bible times and they didn’t have microwaves or take-out. Martha’s household obviously wasn’t wealthy and they didn’t have cooks and servants, so the responsibility naturally fell to her and Mary. I always felt that it was reasonable for Martha to need some help. Despite her rude interruption, the practical side of me gets Martha’s frustration. But at the same time, the worshipper side of me also gets Mary.  My word! To have Jesus in the flesh, in my house, speaking the very words of God, I’d be like “Hold up Martha! Wait a dang minute! I can’t miss a second of this!”

Keith pointed something out that I’d never thought about with this story. Its not like Jesus went out of His way to point out that her choices were inferior to her sisters. Actually there's no indication that Jesus would have mentioned that fact at all had she not had her little outburst. But her embarrassing public tirade of, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Awkward!) simply begged for a response.  She asked for it, and she got it! “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Perhaps He didn't mind at all that she was in the kitchen. I personally don't think He did. Maybe He planned for her and Mary to switch places later. Who knows. But what IS clear is that she started it. And He finished it. 

Actually, despite her disrespectful outburst, (I mean, she REALLY had a lot of nerve!) He didn't seem upset with her at all. His “Martha, Martha” (said twice) was indicative of endearment. Another version had Him saying, “My dear Martha”. That doesn’t sound like someone who is annoyed.  I mean, there were definitely times recorded in the Bible where Jesus WAS annoyed, where He  didn't mince words with His disciples, and rebuked them. But this isn’t one of those times. His response to her interruption of His message (just imagine interrupting Jesus!), to her frustrated complaint (how humiliating for Mary!), to her doubt about His care (that was particularly rude) and to her exasperated demand (to the Son of God no less) was gentle and understanding. Yes, He corrected her. But instead of being motivated by offense (How dare you interrupt ME, question ME, command ME), it was motivated by a love for her. She definitely needed an adjustment- but unlike how we often deliver it, Jesus didn’t adjust her to make a stand, to defend Himself, to shame her or to make His point at her expense. He adjusted her for her good. Because He loved her. 

Here's some observations I never saw before with how Jesus handled Martha.

-First He acknowledged her, speaking her name lovingly (Martha, Martha / dear Martha).
This communicated to her: I know you. I see you. I love you and you are very valuable to Me.

-Then He identified her issue (You are worried and upset/ distracted with many things).
     She was worried. Her worry pointed to a struggle with fear, a difficulty with trusting. It’s really hard to worry and to trust at the same time. (Believe me, I know!).
    She was also upset. Her accusatory “Don’t you care?”, indicated hurt and bitterness and a misunderstanding of Jesus’ actions (or inaction) on her behalf. Perhaps some pain from her past caused her to default to offense, assuming the worst about Him. We don't know. But Jesus looked past the rudeness, saw the wounded heart and dealt gently with her.
    She was distracted. So she wasn’t focused. She was overwhelmed with many things. They weren’t evil, sinful things. They were actually necessary things. But all the things consumed her focus and caused her to lose sight of Him.

-Then in one phrase, He narrowed down for her (and us) what mattered most to Him.  (But only one thing is needed). This is huge people. If we’re honest we’ll admit that there’s a whole lot in the Bible that makes us scratch our heads; things that aren’t that clear, that are interpreted a million different ways by a million different people. There are so many facets to God and so many different aspects to His word that it’s often hard to know where to start, what to focus on first or what to emphasize most. It frankly can be overwhelming. But despite this, there ARE those times when He is clear, when He doesn’t speak in parables or mysteries, where He’s obvious and to the point and it cannot be left up to interpretation. And right here, with Martha, is one of those times. He revealed to her, the most important thing to Him. Just ONE THING is needed. And what was that? It wasn’t another chore to do, another law to keep, another sin to repent of.  So what matters most to Him? Simply put, He wants to have a relationship with us. That’s all He wanted from Martha. He was fine with her cooking and preparing. That wasn’t the point. She had opened her home to Him and was trying to honor Him in her own way and I know He appreciated that. But the point of her hard work had been lost somewhere in the preparations. She’d lost sight of the purpose of her labor- to be with Him. It wasn’t even about what she and Mary were doing, it was about their heart’s focus.

-Despite His love and appreciation for Martha’s hard work, He wasn’t going to do to Mary as her sister requested. (And Mary chose what is better. And it will not be taken away from her). Mary was locked in on Him, connecting to Him and He wasn’t going to allow her to be pulled her away from Him. He wouldn't agree to prioritizing work over worship. Although He wasn’t offended at Martha’s rudeness to Him, He still didn’t totally let her off the hook concerning her treatment of her sister. His acknowledgment and elevation of Mary and her superior choice restored her honor after she’d been rudely humiliated by her sister in front of all the guests. Yes, He loved Martha and was gentle with her in His correction. But He also loved Mary. Mistreating God’s other children does not go unnoticed or undealt with. He is just, after all.

There’s a lot more that can be learned from this story and I may revisit this at some point with more thoughts on the matter. But for now I’ll leave you with this simple summary of what I learned.

  • ·      God values every person. Even the rude, embittered Marthas in the world. He usually doesn’t respond to people like we probably would (thank heavens!) because He sees the whole story. And despite a persons behavior, sometimes kindness is really what they need.
  • ·      When He deals with us He cuts through what we think the issue is and gets to the heart of the matter.  Martha thought her sister was the problem. Jesus knew better.
  • ·      Jesus doesn’t get offended when we voice our frustration to Him. He knows it anyway so we might as well be honest.
  • ·      However, He isn’t pleased with us letting off steam at another’s expense. He will not let us get away with that. No more than I would have let one of my kids when they were little mistreat their brother or sister. I loved them all the same, but when that happened, it wasn’t tolerated.
  • ·      The end game of all ministry, is simply- Jesus. To know Him and to make Him known. But sometimes, that focus can be lost in all of the activity of what needs to get done. When I led worship, there were many necessary preparations- from rehearsal to sound checks- before the worship service. And I admit there were times that I got so busy and overwhelmed with the preparations that I forgot to worship. Jesus still anointed and used me. He wasn’t mad at me during those times. But I am the one who missed out. It'd be like when my out-of-town kids come to visit. If I was too busy cooking and cleaning for them (to bless them no less), to spend any quality time with them, I’d have a lot of regrets once they were gone and I'd be pretty sad. When they are home for a visit, we’ll order pizza if necessary. Because all of our attention is on them. And that’s all Jesus wants too. 
      So there. That’s what I got out of the tired old story of Mary and Martha Martha ;). What’s true for them is true for us. One thing only is needed: Relationship. Period. Amen