Another Look at Mary and Martha

Preached at Olivet Lutheran Church of Sylvania, Ohio on July 17-18, 2010

Text: Luke 10:28-42

Intro: Thank you…for the time away.  It has been good time…and it is also good to be back.

The past six weeks have not only been a time of rest for me.  They have been an opportunity to be renewed in my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  I have been blessed to observe people in their lives of discipleship in the 12 days I spent in Manchester, Sheffield, and London, England.  I have likewise spent time reflecting, discussing, and making plans to act in response to God’s call on my life and to discern how we do the same as the people of Olivet.

In our Gospel reading today – five verses closing the 10th chapter of Luke – we observe two women who are among Jesus’ circle of followers.   Earlier, Jesus had sent out seventy followers on their first mission trip.  He equipped them for the work of preparing His way – and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God.  When they returned with stories of God’s Kingdom breaking through – including healings and demons being disarmed – Jesus rejoiced with them and gave thanks to God.

Then, in response to a pointed question from a lawyer in the crowd, Jesus told a parable of the Kingdom of God, one many of us know quite well – the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Now after all of this, Jesus enters a certain village – likely Bethany – nestled in the hills east of the city of Jerusalem.  There, a woman named Martha offers Jesus hospitality –welcoming him into her home.  Such hospitality is truly an amazing thing – and when people extend the spiritual gift of hospitality, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God!

When Jesus accepts the invitation, Martha gives herself over to many tasks, Luke says.  I am sure they are some of the same tasks that my hosts in Sheffield, Doug and Pam Tiffen, graciously took on in welcoming me and two others into their home.  Preparing food and a comfortable place to sit and to sleep – someone has to do these things, right?  We get that!

As she tends to Jesus’ hunger, thirst, and need for rest, Martha becomes cross with her sister, Mary, who, is not helping her as she would have expected, but instead is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.  You can almost hear the rant warming up…

  • Martha mumbling to herself as she kneads the bread
  • As her temper rises, she begins to make some noise with the pots and pans, hoping that Mary and Jesus will hear how hard she is working
  • Finally, when there has been no acknowledgement, no offer of help, Martha goes to Jesus and Mary, and begins her rant, appealing to Jesus to direct Mary to help with the preparations

Picture the postures of the two women at this moment – Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what Jesus wants her to do, while Martha is standing over him, telling Jesus what she wants him to do.

Jesus’ response is unexpected – even shocking.    It is every bit as shocking as the moment when Jesus makes the Samaritan the example of what a neighbor truly is and does.  Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice to sit and listen to Him is a good one – not just good, but the one thing that is necessary.

In the Greek language, there are two words to measure time – chronos – which is time measured in days, hours, minutes, and seconds – as with calendar and clock; and kairos – which is an event, an opportunity, a moment which can by the very choices it offers, change the course of one’s life.

So – you tell me – when Jesus enters the home of Mary and Martha – is this a chronos or kairos moment?

I think it is a kairos moment – although to be fair, they don’t grasp this yet.  They don’t know that Jesus will eventually make their home his home-base when he is in Jerusalem.  And they certainly don’t know that when their brother Lazarus takes ill and dies, Jesus will come to comfort them and then, with three words and the power of heaven and earth in his hands, Jesus will raise Lazarus from death to life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back to this event – this moment in time when Jesus enters the home of Mary and Martha.  It IS a kairos moment – agreed?  It is a moment when both women stopped what they were doing, and made a choice.

Martha chose to focus on many things she felt were necessary to make Jesus’ stay comfortable, pleasant, even memorable.   In Jesus’ mind, she was probably doing far more than she needed to for him to feel at home.  I resemble that remark!  When we host people in our home, I tend to stress and even obsess over things.   I have missed the opportunity to truly “be” with guests, because I have been so caught up in crafting a wonderful meal.

I know what it is to be Martha in my role as a pastor too – to try to juggle so many tasks, nurture so many ideas, support so many people.  I know that I often make the mistake of thinking that if I can write a certain number of events into a day’s schedule or physically get to a given number of places in a 24-hour period, then I should be there and do that.   I know what it is to be Martha – to be worried and distracted by many things.   Perhaps some of you do, too.

I know what it is to be Martha – to move through life as though it is a straight line from point A to point B to point C, without time to think, to reflect, to learn, to be – living by chronos and missing the kairos moments.

I know that this was happening during the interim period between Pastor Darrell’s departure and Pastor Ed’s arrival.     I know that this is why I needed these past six weeks…to realize that Jesus loves the work I do, but He loves me, simply for who I am as a precious daughter of God.  And He wants me to sit and be and listen and learn from Him.  In fact, it is necessary for me to do that if I would be His disciple.

There in Bethany, Jesus ‘ intent was that he would be the one giving hospitality –sharing Himself with Mary, and desiring to do the same with Martha.  Here in this community as well, Jesus is present in Word and Water, in bread and wine – sharing Himself with us.  What happens as we gather here is not ultimately a chronos event – measured in minutes; it is a kairos moment when our crucified and risen Lord is among us to put to death that which separates us from God, and raise to life in us that which will offer Jesus’ life to those around us.

These encounters have the power to change the course of our lives…and the lives of those with whom we share our lives.

If we are among those who prepare the table, or the music, or the lesson for Children’s Church, or the sermon – we need to do what is needed for the sake of our worship, while not neglecting to do what is necessary as Jesus defines it – meeting Him here among us.   And there need to be additional persons who will share in these tasks so that everyone has the opportunity to learn and to do.

Imagine what it would be like to be Martha of Bethany – centuries later as people joined her in heaven, you know they would be asking her, “Wow, what was it like to host Jesus in your home?  What was it like to be able to sit with him and listen to him in such an intimate setting?”  Imagine what it would be like to be Martha, answering, “You know, I can’t tell you what that was like, because I spent the time in the kitchen, and never quite got out of there to sit and listen.”

Fortunately, as we learn more about Martha and Mary from John’s Gospel, it would appear that Martha, like Mary, learned to balance her doing for Jesus with her being with Him.  Both Martha and Mary (as well as their brother Lazarus) were numbered among Jesus’ closest friends.

Today, Jesus calls us to recognize this kairos moment with Him – and embrace it, and the life and eternal friendship He offers.

In the name of Jesus+