But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.
—Luke 10:40-42 HCSB
Each year around the holidays I usually receive a few invitations to share at various women’s ministry events; invitations I accept eagerly and with deep gratitude.
I just love to talk about Jesus.
Honestly, He’s my absolute favorite.
I start praying for the event well in advance, and those prayers usually go something like this:
So what do you want to talk about, Lord? Clock’s ticking. Sure could use some insight.
There are the usual passages of Scripture preachers like to teach on around Christmas, like Isaiah 9:6, which states “For unto us a child is born, unto is a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
The Lukan narrative of Jesus’ birth is another popular place to go, but this year, I couldn’t tear myself away from the story of Mary and Martha.
The story is small, buried deep in the heart of the book of Luke, in the middle of our Savior’s journey to Jerusalem, but it carries big implications for us that we can apply year-round.
Luke’s Gospel divides neatly into four sections, comprised of Jesus’ birth and baptism (1:1—4:13), His ministry in Galilee (4:14—9:50), the journey to Jerusalem (9:51—19:44), and the Passion week leading to His crucifixion and resurrection (19:45—24:53). Each section has a theme, and the theme of the Jerusalem journey is this:
~ Jesus Offers a New Way ~
What is the new way? God the Father told Peter, James, and John when they were alone with Jesus on a mountaintop. “This is My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.”
~ Listen to Him ~
What God did in that simple statement was to turn the old way on its head—upside down and inside out. Backward front and frontwards back. A completely new way of approaching the God of Israel.
You see, the old way was about the “do.”
It was about the “thou shalls” and “shall nots,” the “cans” and “cannots,” the “do’s” and “do nots.” It was about an ever-ascending ladder of laws that no man could hope to fulfill.
Ah, but that was the whole point.
The commands, the “thou shalls” and the “do’s” were never meant to save the poor Israelites. They were intended to show them how far they were from holiness, how great was their capacity to sin, and how likely they were to stray without the safeguard of the law.
The “do” was put in place to point us to a “Who.”
~ The old way was about the Do. The new way is about the Who. ~
Martha learned that first hand, late one afternoon when a scraggly band of brothers came knocking at her door. They weren’t strangers, far from it. Scripture indicates that Martha, her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus, were dear friends of the Rabbi they called the Christ. In Biblical times it was a great honor to offer your home to travelers and hospitality was expected.
Still, can we all just agree that Jesus and His disciples pulled a total pop-in?
Maybe you keep your pantry stocked and your home guest-ready, but as for me and my house, make a reservation.
Another thing that occurs to me is that in 30-or-so A.D. when this likely took place, there was not a kosher-Kroger open twenty-four/seven. A meal was a big deal. They made their own flour. They butchered their own cows. These things, I’m told, take time.
So I find it completely normal and natural that Martha would be scurrying around, scraping together a meal to feed at least thirteen hungry men. Martha, as a matter of fact, was doing exactly what Jewish society would have expected her to do.
Mary, on the other hand, was downright scandalous.
Women did not sit at the feet of teachers—that was the position of a disciple, and women were not disciples.
In fact, men would not talk to their wives in the public square, and neither would they walk next to them in the street. The women followed behind. Women were allowed no further in the temple than the outer court, along with the Gentiles.
Surely as the disciples watched the scene play out, they too, anticipated a scolding.
They got one, but not the one they expected.
How their eyes must’ve widened when Jesus, lovingly but firmly told Martha that she, not her sister, was in the wrong, and in fact, Mary had chosen the better thing.
Martha was still stuck in the old way, the way of the “do.”
Sweet Mary, who anointed her Lord with oil and wiped His feet with her hair, who would watch in stunned silence when the Lord commanded her four-day-dead brother to stop being dead and come out of the tomb already, was all about the “Who.”
She sat at His feet.
She leaned in.
She chose the better thing, and it would not be taken from her.
And suddenly, what society said she should or shouldn’t do didn’t matter anymore, and neither did the world’s expectations because her Lord was in front of her and she was hanging on every single word.
As a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, we are taught to examine the text in a very-Mary-kind-of-way, and I think it’s worth noting that Jesus did not correct Martha’s busyness. He didn’t scold her for serving or chasten her for huffing and puffing about her sister.
He ever-so-gently reprimanded the posture of her heart.
You see, the new way doesn’t throw out the “do.” The Bible is clear on this point.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only (James 1:22).
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him (James 2:14)?
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
The new way changes the order of things. If we attempt the do without the Who we’ll end up just like Martha, frustrated and grumpy that no one is helping.
The new way isn’t a list; it’s an invitation to spend time with our Lord in the Scriptures and wait on Him to speak. It’s about leaning in and listening. It’s choosing to live in a love that stepped off the throne, into skin, and climbed on a cross to bear your sin.
This year, let’s make it first and foremost about the “Who,” and trust that He will tell us what to do.
But your Teacher will not hide Himself any longer. Your eyes will see your Teacher, and whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.”
—Isaiah 30:20b-21 HCSB