Read Psalm 4 and Luke 10:38-42*
Sermon: “Peace, Be Still”
As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. I can almost hear you say “What a minute, Tom, we know this story. Marthaa too busy and Mary got the good stuff.”
Yes, on the surface, that is as good of a summery as any. But is that all there is to this story? Can we not learn anything more?
I have heard plenty of sermons asking me to decide if I am a Martha, a person too busy with the cares of the world; or a Mary, the quiet, contemplative, lover of Jesus. Well, my answer has always been, “Yes”.
Yes, I am each of those things at different times.
However, when I read this passage now, I understand more about what is happening here. That is one of the marvels of scripture reading, the more you read, them more you see. Like a flower opening its petals, it slowly opens to your heart and mind.
It all started when Jesus came to Bethany, to visit the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They had become cherished personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had a profound love for their family, and it’s clear from Luke’s account that Jesus made Himself at home in their house.
Certainly hospitality was a special hallmark of this family. Martha in particular is portrayed everywhere as a meticulous hostess. The fact that her name was usually listed first whenever she’s named with her siblings implies strongly that she was the elder sister of Mary and Lazarus. She as the eldest would have taken on the role of caretaker for her sister and brother.
First of all it appears that it is Martha’s home. Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary lived there with Martha. It would have been a common thing for unmarried sisters to live together. However it would have been equally common that they have separate homes. I have also heard sermons that say this is their brother Lazareth’s home. However, when I read John 11:1 we find, “Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived, was sick.” To me, that just says that the sisters and their brother lived in the same town. So, if indeed this was Martha’s home, it changes the dynamics of the story slightly.
However, whether she owned the home or was just the one who managed the home, it was Martha who invited Jesus into her home. This was her service to him. By inviting the Master into her home she had accepted the hosting responsibilities implied in the invitation.
Jesus had come at Martha’s invitation. She was the one who welcomed Him in, signifying that she was the actual master of ceremonies in this house. On this occasion, at least, she wasn’t merely filling in as a surrogate hostess for a friend; she was plainly the one in charge of the household. She fussed over her hostess duties. She wanted everything to be just right. She was a conscientious and considerate hostess, and these were admirable traits. Much in her behavior was commendable.
When I read this passage, I am often reminded of my first mother in law. She was a loving, giving, Christian woman who had a real gift for giving of herself, her time and everything she owned. When describing her, I usually say, “She was the type of woman where, if you knocked on her door to sell magazines, she would invite you in. And the following scene would unfold: “Here sit down, you look hot and tired. Would you like some water? Or I have some pop. Or I could make coffee. Would you like a sandwich, I have leftover ham.”
She sounds like a delight doesn’t she? Amen? She was. However, it could be slightly frustrating when you came to visit her. She was so busy being the hostess, that you couldn’t get her to sit still and talk with you. I think of Martha in that way.
Martha wasn’t the only person that scriptures say invited Jesus into their homes. So perhaps we should take at those times and compare and contrast the other invitations with Martha’s. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus attends a banquet in the home of a prominent Pharisee and teaches a lesson about proper guest etiquette.
“Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”
Having now schooled the guests on proper behavior, he does the same for the Pharisee in verses 12-14
“Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”
Now that we have heard Jesus’ teaching, let’s look at what was going on in Martha’s home. Has she invited those who can return the favor?
No. She has invited Jesus. By extension, we can assume that his disciples were also present. Remember the scriptures says, “As they were traveling along”. Jesus was an itinerant preacher with no permanent home. Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 say, “Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep.” While it is possible that some of the disciples had homes in the area, we must remember that when Jesus called them, they dropped what they were doing and followed. Even if the disciples weren’t actually homeless, they were without income. They were living on the charity of others. So Jesus and his followers were not in a position to repay Martha by inviting her to dine with them.
Jesus, as the guest was seated in the honored place. Not because he chose it but because it was offered.
I find it enlightening that the customs of the time held that women’s legal rights were categorized along with Gentiles, minors, deaf-mutes and “undesirables” such as gamblers, the insane, usurers, and pigeon-racers.” One of these days I want to know more about those sinful pigeon-racers. But that is a study for another time.
The point is, for Jesus to accept her offer, meant that he was once again breaking the traditions and teachings of the religious leaders of the day. Just as He did when in Mark 2:14-16 we read, “When Jesus was leaving, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting in a tax office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” So Levi got up and followed him. Later Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners who were followers of Jesus were eating with him and his disciples. When the experts in Moses’ Teachings who were Pharisees saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
This, most likely, was Martha’s life. Everything revolved around caring for the home. It was both her treasure and her prison because “In those times, respectable women were expected to stay within the confines of the home. “The woman of the first century did not even do her own shopping, except possibly to go out, accompanied by a slave, to buy material which she would use to construct her own clothing at home! Customarily, even a woman of stature could not engage in commerce and would rarely be seen outside her home. Only a woman in dire economic straits, who was forced to become the family breadwinner, could engage in her own small trade. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was to be heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men. “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace” (J)
Now we know that Martha had a sister named Mary. and we know that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. It is believed that this is the same event that is described in John 12:1-8.
Six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany. Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life, lived there. Dinner was prepared for Jesus in Bethany. Martha served the dinner, and Lazarus was one of the people eating with Jesus.
Mary took a bottle of very expensive perfume made from pure nard and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house.
One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was going to betray him, asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for a high price and the money given to the poor?” (Judas didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and carried the contributions.) Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has done this to prepare me for the day I will be placed in a tomb. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you.”
Some scholars believe that Mary was also the woman at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and was eating at the table.
A woman who lived a sinful life in that city found out that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she took a bottle of perfume and knelt at his feet. She was crying and washed his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them over and over again, and poured the perfume on them.
The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and thought, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner.”
Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
Simon replied, “Teacher, you’re free to speak.”
So Jesus said, “Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”
Jesus said to him, “You’re right!” Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “You see this woman, don’t you? I came into your house. You didn’t wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss. But ever since I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t put any olive oil on my head. But she has poured perfume on my feet. That’s why I’m telling you that her many sins have been forgiven. Her great love proves that. But whoever receives little forgiveness loves very little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” The other guests thought, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”
If this indeed the same woman, why was she said to be “A woman who lived a sinful life”? Remember that I said earlier that a woman’s place was in the house … literally. Respectable women did not leave the house. Yet Mary is known to have left the house. The terminology used in that day for a prostitute was “one who goes abroad”.
After their brother, Lazareth had died, Martha went to Jesus to tell him not to bother because it was too late. Jesus has this to say in John 11:25-40 Jesus said to (Martha), “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?”
27 Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world.”
28 After Martha had said this, she went back home and whispered to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here, and he is calling for you.”
Several things catch my attention here that shed more light on the differences and similarities with the sisters. Martha is the one who goes to Jesus and tells him that Lazareth is already dead. It was her responsibility as the head of the house. After all, she was the one who had sent the message asking Jesus to come and heal her brother. As the eldest, she could have told Mary to go and give the bad news that Lazareth had died. Instead she made the journey herself. Then after Jesus hears her confession that she believes He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world, she goes home and tells Mary to go.
29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 (Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still where Martha had met him.) 31 The Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave. So they followed her. They thought that she was going to the tomb to cry.
Mary had stayed behind at the house with the mourners and then went running out. It is helpful to understand the traditional rituals and observances at the time of a Jewish death.
“Traditionally, a person is buried the same day as his or her death, followed by seven days of mourning. A special meal of condolence is provided after the burial. Mourners remain in the house of mourning with friends and family throughout the week. Prayers are offered, and readings from the Torah are shared. Memorial candles are often lit. Traditional grooming stops, as do marital relations, entertainment, and regular study. In some cases, mourners wait 30 days before cutting their hair.
The New Testament speaks of mourners’ loud wailing. For example, when Jesus came to the home of the synagogue ruler whose daughter had died, He “saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). This took place on the same day as the girl’s death, as her body was still inside the home.
Mourning sometimes included shaving one’s head or putting ashes or dust on the head, in addition to rending garments. These actions communicated to everyone that the person was in mourning. Jeremiah 25:34 mentions the actions of a mourner in a judgment on evil rulers: “Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come.”(g)
So Mary has run from the house of mourning and gone to Jesus.
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Notice how strongly she believes in Jesus power.
33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who were crying with her, he was deeply moved and troubled.
34 So Jesus asked, “Where did you put Lazarus?”
They answered him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus cried. 36 The Jews said, “See how much Jesus loved him.” 37 But some of the Jews asked, “Couldn’t this man who gave a blind man sight keep Lazarus from dying?”
38 Deeply moved again, Jesus went to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Take the stone away.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Jesus, “Lord, there must already be a stench. He’s been dead for four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see God’s glory?”
From these glimpses into the lives of these two women it is easy to see that they both loved the Lord. Each in their own way honored him. It is also easy to see the differences. Martha was a thinker and a doer. Mary was ruled more by her heart and more emotional.
It was these differences that are in play here when we read, “But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
Notice in the next verse how gently Jesus answers Martha. It is not a condemnation for her service to him. It is a reminder that time with Him is more important than all the busy work. Listen, “The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. “But of the few things worth worrying about, there is only one thing you need.” Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”
I have to admit that sometimes the “busy work” of preparing sermons, picking the worship music, and typing the bulletins; keeps me from actually spending time in communion with my Lord.
If you, like me, let the day to day things of life, even those things that are in service to the Lord, keep you from the peaceful refreshment of time spent at the feet of Jesus, listen to his quiet voice. He will answer when you call upon Him. He can free you of your troubles for he has pity on you.
Then along with the psalmist I say, “Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord. Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord. You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase. I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.” Amen.
All scripture quotes are from GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)