As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
This is one of my favorite passages because it speaks to me on so many levels. Frankly, some days I'm Mary, but more often, I'm Martha. Perhaps you can find yourself in this story, too.
To fill in the details of the story, we need to look at John 11: 1-2 where we find that Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, of Bethany, who later would be raised from the dead. Mary was the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus knew this family well and there was much love between them.
Matthew Henry (my favorite theologian from the 1600-1700's) says that Martha was likely a widow who kept the home where she had lived with her husband (or possibly was housekeeper in Lazarus' home), and that Mary lived with her. Since Jesus was not rich in money, he was dependent upon the hospitality of His friends. Matthew Henry says that "Jesus often invited Himself to them" because He knew he was always welcome at the home of Martha and Mary. "Though it was expensive to entertain Christ for He did not come alone, but brought His disciples with Him, yet she would not regard the cost of it. How can we spend what we have better than in Christ's service?"
Perhaps the reason for Martha's fretting and worrying was not that everything be perfect but that she be able to serve her Lord at all. For a widow of limited means, entertaining thirteen hearty men was no small undertaking. The food alone would have been a considerable effort and expense.
Until today, when I thought of Martha and Mary, I have generally thought of them in a 1st century version of my house. If Martha wanted to cook something, she would just go to my pantry or out to the freezer, get it and cook it right up. Nothing could have been further from the truth! The typical meal was likely bread, olive oil, dried fruit, and dried legumes of some sort, either beans or lentils. Bread was likely cooked fresh every day. If Martha wanted to make bread, she had to grind the grain. If Martha wanted to cook beans, she soaked them and likely cooked them for hours. The arrival of Jesus and his disciples meant that, if Martha was going to feed them, she had to get to work and to get busy about it. (Of course, Jesus could have just done a miracle and fed them with the little she had on hand, but it appears that she wanted to provide for Him from her own resources.)
In 1st century Israel, there were no telephones, cell phones, fax machines, or postal service home mail delivery. Without a runner going ahead to say He was coming, Jesus had no way to notify Martha that He was en route. The willing generosity of Martha toward the Lord and His disciples should be an example for us. There is no indication that Martha served grudgingly or under compulsion. Instead, it is clear that she was eager to serve well and to do it on the spur of the moment. There is no greater honor than to have the Lord of Heaven and Earth present in our homes and, in recognizing that, Martha longed to give honor back to Him with her service.
What about us? Are we willing to serve Christ on the spur of the moment, without regard to the amount of effort or expense required? Would we, like Martha, welcome Jesus and all the people who journeyed with Him into our home? Would we be ready to entertain at a moment's notice?
Jesus visited often in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus and felt free to bring His friends along, because He knew He would always be welcome. Can He say the same of us? of our homes? Let's be sure that we are as welcoming to our Lord and those He sends our way as Martha, who willing shared the little she had with all who came her way.
Please be in prayer for Congressman Alan Nunnelee, who is seriously ill and in desperate need of miraculous intervention, as well as his family and friends.