During my time as a minister of the kingdom, whenever someone has responded to a request for help with, "When I sort out this thing, then I will help", they never come to help.
This rather short account recorded by one Gospel author has always struck a strong cord with me as a Western pastor. Why? Because the Western church is filled with Marthas.
It's a product of a world filled with false gods. In the West, the god that screams for our attention is the marketplace. We see hundreds of ads every day that seek to create discontent so that we may buy the product that we think will make us content. Even in our homes, we let these salesmen in through our televisions, newspapers, magazines and computers.
In our culture, there is always a better job, another channel, a bigger house, another appliance, a better holiday. And so, we work harder and harder, owe more and more in order to chase what we want. The problem is most true ministerial endeavours don't pay enough to keep up with the Joneses and worse they take time away from the pursuits that we truly want.
Before I go further, let me address the text at hand. While all accounts of Jesus' ministry are important, it is interesting to note which ones all the Gospel authors write about and just as interesting when certain stories are told by only one Gospel author. This is one of those occasions.
So, why did Luke add this story in his account? The Gospel of Luke is actually the first book of a two book series. The second book is Acts. Acts is the story of the establishment of the church of Christ. We read in Acts that one of the things early Christians devoted themselves to was meeting in each other's homes.
I love having people over. It's relaxed. It's informal. It's free. We can talk freely without a strict agenda. But, there is a problem in having brothers and sisters in Christ in my home. It's harder to hide. People can see how I live. Here I am, warts and all.
And so, having people over can be quite confronting. Oh, I should have mowed the lawn. They must think less of us. It wouldn't be right not having a good meal for these people in my home. That's not hospitable. What if they go into a room that isn't clean? Christians should have it together. What if they see that I am struggling? What if they are think my house is too messy?
On the flip side, people who are highly organised and have a nice home that they have worked hard for know that there is a thing that can ruin all their hard work: people. People don't respect things the way I do. People, especially kids, are noisy. It's impossible for me to relax if I think the things I work so hard for are misplaced or broken. It takes too much energy to steer people in certain zones of the house where I don't worry as much. It's too much hassle.
I think Luke adds this account in his Gospel because the church he knows meets in one another's homes. Luke wants to remind the church in all this beautiful hospitality to keep the main thing, the main thing. Jesus allows people to meet in one another's homes without pressure.
It's astounding that children of grace still feel the need to be perfect when they have people over. Do we realise how much money we spend meeting in neutral venues such as community halls, church halls and restaurants?
Mary and Martha had Jesus in their home. They had the Messiah in their home! Mary chose to spend time with Jesus, listen to Jesus. Martha decided the Messiah was too important of a guest for just a normal visit. There were preparations to be made. There was lots of work to be done.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks...
She had the Messiah in her home. It should have been a time of great joy and growth. Instead, because she was insecure with her home, she was distracted from this marvelous opportunity to spend time with the Lord. Worse, her sister was not helping her with all of the work Martha decided had to be done right then and there.
She grows flustered to boiling point. And so, she does what we all do when we become irrationally frustrated; she yells something that makes no sense. "Lord...Tell her..." In wise calm, we see this as a silly phrase. We are never truly in a position to demand anything from our Lord. But, because she decided that other things had to be done before spending time with Jesus, she became angry and resentful not only with her sister but with her Lord.
The Light of the World, as He often does, puts things into perspective with loving calm as he tells Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Are we listening, Western church?