Luke 10:38-42 “Only Need One Thing”
Jesus and his disciples were walking through the community of Bethany in Judea. We know that at this time wherever Jesus went, he had a good group of followers. Luke mentions that at least seventy disciples seem to be in his cadre at this point, since we have already read about the sending of the seventy out and their eventual return to Jesus.
So, how did Martha welcome just Jesus into her home? Did she go up to him and ask him politely: “Would you like to spend the evening at my house?” We have a little bit of a clue as to how this took place in the word used in the Greek. The word is υπεδέξατο (hyperdexato) which would seem to indicate Martha’s taking Jesus’ hand and leading him physically into her front door. Way to go Martha! She was not shy, apparently. She should have been because of the traditions of the day. It would be considered quite unseemly for a woman simply to invite a man into her home.
This raises the question of whether she and Jesus were previously acquainted. Luke writes simply that there was a woman “named Martha.” This seems to indicate that this is where their story together begins. They certainly became friends and confidants after this. Though it is not stated outright in the Bible, tradition of the early church says that she was among the women who came to anoint Jesus at the time of his crucifixion and was among the “other women” mentioned at the time of the resurrection as well.
Of course this story is about two women, not just Martha, but her sister Mary as well. We have so many “Mary’s” in the Bible that we can get confused by them all. She therefore is generally referred to as “Mary of Bethany.” Some folks have even taken “Mary” out of the name and simply refer to her as Bethany—a popular girl’s name still today.
Mary of Bethany is very different than her sister Martha. She seems a bit more demure. She sits herself down at the feet of Jesus and hears his Word. Martha is in the kitchen making preparations for the big feast that she wants to give for Jesus. From the kitchen area, Martha is not able to hear the Word of the Lord.
As an aside, the bible tells us that the two sisters also had a brother. He is not mentioned in this story, but one day in the near future Jesus will actually raise him up from the dead. He is of course Lazarus. The bible is not clear where he is when Jesus first comes to the house. It does make for a bit more intrigue that Martha would grab a man into the house while the man of the house, the brother, is away.
Whenever I read the Gospel, I like to ask the question as to why the Gospel writer chose to include one particular story. What was Luke’s point? He had an intended audience, the new believers of the early church. This story was supposed to speak to them about something that was currently going on in the early church. In this way, it speaks to all churches throughout Christian history right up to today. We have only one thing that is needful as a church. We have to listen to the Word of the Lord. Certainly, we have to be in Jesus’ presence to do that very thing!
Some of you who have been on church council or other committees of the church will know that I have actually quantified what Jesus was telling to Martha in a very specific rule. If we here in the church have a business meeting of some sort, then I expect that it is followed up by three times that amount of time in worship, Bible study and prayer. For instance, if we meet for one hour in a committee, then we must pray for three hours to keep the balance. That is to say, the real business of the church is to hear the Word through being in the presence of Christ. And without this, we are not really a church but rather just another State of Hawaii Corporation.
This whole idea was greatly exemplified this last January when we held our Annual Business meeting of the church. We have an annual business meeting because we are required by the State to have such a meeting. Really, it is not one of the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down off Mount Sinai. Jesus never told his disciples to host an annual business meeting. It is not even to be found in the Book of Acts of the Apostles. We have a business meeting because of what Paul says to the church in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Because the governing authority, the State of Hawaii, says that every corporation must have an annual meeting, we have an annual business meeting. Fortunately, the State does not tell us HOW LONG the meeting has to be! I believe our last annual business meeting was a record-breaking 13 minutes long from quorum to adjournment. You see, we are even doing better than the 3/1 ratio. We worshipped for an hour and only had business for thirteen minutes.
Another belief of mine is that when we shrink down the time and resources that the church uses in terms of its own administration, then that time is opened up for doing ministry for Jesus. So, here is my personal twist on this story of Mary and Martha. Martha should have been right there at the feet of Jesus with Mary, knowing that the meal was already prepared, having completed the preparations earlier in the day.
This is the same thing in the church and in our personal lives, get the business stuff out of the way first so that we can spend unhurried quality time on our spiritual relationship with Jesus. Luke tells us in the story of Mary and Martha that Martha was “distracted.” In fact, this is mentioned twice. Literally from the Greek we can imagine that Martha was running around in circles (periespato). This word means that she was “pulled around” like dog on a leash. Indeed, when I take Nikos da dog out for a walk on the beach, that is exactly what I am doing with him—or, that is what Nikos da dog is doing to me: he pulls me every which way. Imagine Martha was being pulled by my dog Nikos.
If we get all that other stuff in our lives put together and set aside in the “done” pile, then we can focus our living on what really matters. We need to keep our priorities straight. Do what is expected of you by others, but then do not let it pull you around anymore. Do not just keep thinking about all of the other things that need to be done, keep your eyes on Jesus. Stay at his feet.
I can hear some of you saying to me now: “Yup, but how do I get it all done? I do not even have time sometimes to check my calendar to see everything I did not get done! How do YOU do it, Pastor?” The answer is that sometimes I do not get it all done. This last week I finally put the tent away from the Easter sunrise service! But, the important thing was that I had it up in time for worship on Easter sunrise! It really did not matter that I put it away in time! So, it is a matter of priority.
This next point in the sermon was inspired by my receiving an e-mail from a company on the mainland that wanted to sell me cannabis. That is marijuana, pakalolo, mary jane, or however you want to express it. As you are certainly aware, some states allow for the drug, although Hawaii does not. To get past that, some enterprising folks are trying to sell it on-line. I did not purchase any, by the way.
I do believe that we are in a crisis in this country in terms of illicit drug use. Some have called this the “Opioid Epidemic.” The crisis goes far beyond the use of opioids. It has been going on for years, too. At the root of this crisis is a basic human need to mentally escape the stress of modern living. I believe that we do not need to chemically induce this state with pharmaceutical help; we need only to be like Mary of Bethany and lower ourselves to sit at the feet of Jesus. In the presence of God, we can calm ourselves and get back to what is most important in life.
In Spanish there is a wonderful way to tell someone to calm down when they are too excited. “Eh, tranquile!” That could be translated as “tranquilize.” But you know what it sounds like, right? It sounds like “tequila.” I like to respond: “Dices a mi ‘tequila’?” Are you asking me to drink some tequila? We have come to the point today in our society that we think we cannot even relax or tranquilize without alcohol. Please note that Jesus and Mary of Bethany are not imbibing, nor are they insisting in that moment that Martha take a shot. If you want true tranquility in your life, sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His Word coming to you.
The last line of our scripture for today is again a little cryptic: “Mary has chosen the ‘better part.’” If you just hear that, you are not sure to what that is referring. “Better part” here is αγαθος (agathos) in the Greek which has a meaning of ultimate virtue, holiness, and sanctification. Therefore, we could translate this as “Mary has chosen holiness and sanctification, which will not be taken away from her.”
Be in the presence of the Lord, hear His Word, and you will receive the sanctified life—that will be the life everlasting from this day forward into eternity with Jesus. Sit at the feet of Jesus now, and you will be sitting at the feet of Jesus in heaven. If you are going to run around the hot kitchen now, then you may face some heat in eternity, too.
Jesus says that this is OUR choice! We can choose right now here today that which will make us holy and sanctified by stopping at the feet of Jesus. Just stop everything in your life and hear the Word of God. That is what the church is for—that we may be in the presence of our Lord and hear His Word.