One more look at what Martha is doing wrong in Luke 10, part of this series – after this, we’ll focus on Mary, and what she is doing right!
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I think this passage stands out so much to many of us because it is so relatable, and we have so often found ourselves in the same situation as Martha, probably with our spouse or our family or our roommates. It’s not hard to put yourself in her shoes that day: she’s washing dishes, baking bread, getting things ready in the kitchen, bustling around trying to get everything ready for very important guests. And then she peeks into the next room and what does she see but Mary just sitting around with Jesus, having a good time, not helping at all!
You can just totally imagine what she does at this point – she tries to ignore it and go about her work, but she’s getting more and more impatient, probably making impatient little sounds to try to get her sister to notice that Martha is doing all the work. And then finally, after probably minutes of fuming and getting upset, she explodes. And we know that she’s mad at her sister, but what’s more, she’s a little peeved at Jesus, because she says to Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work? Tell her to help me!” And so Martha is angry at her sister, and upset with Jesus, and resentful that they are both not doing what they are supposed to be doing, that she alone is doing what she is supposed to. She feels distant from the two people who are closest to her: her sister, and Jesus. And so that is the full picture of Martha in this passage – yes, she is the hard-working sister, but also the bitter, resentful, angry, and distant one as well.
And I think there is an important lesson in this, that when we try to serve without first sitting and listening at the feet of Christ, we become people that we don’t like. Sometimes serving in itself, in isolation, without being connected to God, can be harmful for us because it can breed a sense of contempt and bitterness in us, distancing us from other people and ultimately from Christ.
And you often find this is true in people who have made their career in service – they are often dismissive towards those who aren’t doing the same kind of work as they. Everyone becomes an enemy, someone who is not doing their fair share in light of human suffering. And just like with Martha, this disappointment and impatience can extend to their understanding of God as well, a frustration or even anger that God doesn’t seem to care as much as they do. And so, despite their absolute best of intentions, people who commit themselves to serving others often can become brutal instruments of division and rancor – burned out and angry people who are bitter at their fellow human, who have lost the ability to see other points of view, and are distant from God.
To be honest, I can often feel this way, even as a pastor. And I’m sure that many of us, in the pursuit of accomplishing something good, become people that we never wanted to be. And this is dangerous because if we are responsible for anything, we are responsible for our means, and how we conduct ourselves. The results, the ends are up to God.
And that is what sitting at the feet of Jesus is: it is remaining connected to him, connected to the one who is the source of our calling to servanthood and action. Yes, we are called to act and to serve, but we want to do so out of abundance, out of the riches that we have in God every single day. Otherwise we will be transformed into people that we don’t want to be. And I think this is one of the most important reasons why we need to sit at the feet of Jesus – to ground us, and to make sure that our service to the world is joyful and overflows out of an abundance, and not just an empty well.