Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:38-40 NASB)
Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem. Along the way, in an unnamed village, He stays with Martha and her sister Mary. From John we learn that these two live in Bethany, and that they have a brother, Lazarus. From John we also learn a bit more about the character of these two. But from Luke we learn some of the dark side of Martha.
When a person stays at your house, you want everything perfect. When the guest is a surprise, that sort of desire just isn’t going to be met. When the guest is a surprise and important person, well then the frustration at not getting the perfect house to host in is exponentially higher. Martha, though, is not handling it well. We have two clues (technically three).
First, she’s being “wheeled around” by the preparations. Most translations use “distracted”, but this is too tame a word. The Greek word used there is normally used to describe a rider “wheeling around” his horse to go in the opposite direction. It was used of an army marching in formation being “wheeled around” to march in the opposite direction. That rounding turn, or turning in circles, makes for a nice square dance in Virginia, but makes for a stressful work environment. She’s basically spinning around in the house trying to make sure she has everything done. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. In modern vernacular, “Chill out!”
Second, Martha basically disrespects Jesus. Call it what you will, but the grammatical construction missing the “if not, then” construction is more…harsh. It’s typically worded in English without the “if not,then” construct, but the tone is translated softer too. It’s not here. Martha sees Mary not “wheeling around” with her (and who likes to dance alone?), and is frustrated enough to be disrespectful of her guest. Think that through. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens. Martha is trying to get a meal ready, but when she speaks it’s disrespectful. So, Martha is really being selfish because she’s concerned about how the house reflects upon her, more than about her guest. In her concern to be seen as a good hostess, Martha forgot to be gracious to her guest. Oops.
Martha is a great depiction of us, or at least of me. I get so caught up in the good things of “church” or the activities of my relationship with Jesus, I forget to relate to Him. My selfishness sneaks in to the forefront, and how I appear as I serve becomes more important than Who I serve. I want to be thought of as great because I know I’m not really great. This happens when you get closer to God, you simply get used to a completely unattainable definition of “great”. Ironically, I’m still not close enough to God not to care that others see me as “great”. It’s a mental illness, really; but tightly connected to a spiritual one. I’m still alive in there somewhere in my interior, and I need to die. I need to die so that my Master can then make me alive in Him. Jesus won’t “quicken” my spirit if my willfulness thrives. He waits for me to give up so that He is invited in.
The scary thing about dying to self, is the cross. “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me…” Okay, I admit it. I don’t really want to. I want Jesus on my own terms where I can still maintain the semblance of respectability to others. I have a foot in the world and a foot in His Kingdom. That’s not going to work. It’s time to pray.
What lesson do you see in Martha this morning?