I apologize for the dearth of posts recently!! No excuses, I will try to get some more posts up this week and next. This is our last look at Luke 10, and the story of Mary and Martha:
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.”
Last week, we saw how Mary wasn’t simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him tell jokes. She was most likely hearing some very incisive and difficult teachings, about forgiveness and self-sacrifice, very much in line with what He shares at other points in His ministry. And in that vein, it’s possible that she might have heard what Jesus teaches in Luke 6, where He says this:
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
Or maybe Jesus was teaching her was He shares in John 14:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
So in reality, Mary is not just sitting at Jesus’ feet, contemplating a bit of theology or philosophy, mulling His words over. Rather, He was giving instructions that Mary was supposed to live out and practice in her life. In this, Mary wasn’t just listening to Jesus – she was hearkening to Him.
In English, we have two different words for listening and obeying, and they are independent of one another. A person can listen to someone and not necessarily obey them. And so for us, these two concepts are separated, and aren’t always connected to one another. But that’s not how it is in the Hebrew. In Hebrew, the word for “listen” and the word for “obey” are cognates, meaning that they have the same root. They don’t have two separate meanings, but instead, one combined meaning: listenandobey, or listening with the intent of action or practice.
The closest word that we have to that in the English is an old word that we don’t use very often, but you find sometimes in older translations of the Bible, and that is the word “Hearken”, like in the King James version of Psalm 103, where it reads this:
20Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
And that word “hearkening” doesn’t just mean to listen for listening sake, but it means listening with the full intent of putting into practice. It’s what soldiers do on the battlefield when they huddle with their commanding officer – they don’t just listen and then sit to contemplate what they have heard. They are listening orders that they are expected to carry out. And I think that’s what Mary was doing, she was hearkening to Jesus, listening intently with the intention of acting and obeying. And this is one of those misperceptions of this moment, that listening to Jesus is an end point to itself, when it was really only just the beginning. When we sit at the feet of Jesus, we sit at the feet of our Savior, and our Friend, but also our Lord and Commander, our Kurios in the Greek. We sit in order to receive our directions, our marching orders.
We so often divorce listening from obedience, as if they are two completely unrelated ideas. We do this partly because our education often prizes knowledge over application, doctoral degrees over technical experience. And we do this partly because as Americans, we prize independent thought and action, our inborn right to listen and judge if something is correct before we follow. And don’t get me wrong, that is a worthy virtue, especially in a society where so much of what we are told to do is not necessarily the best thing for ourselves, or for others. Healthy skepticism is the right, and duty of every American.
But for Christians, and how we approach God, it is a different story. Such healthy skepticism and caution is perfectly fine as a citizen of a country, but as a follower of Christ, the concepts of listening and obeying are tied much more closely together, married even. When Christ calls us to forgive and love our enemies, we aren’t supposed to just toss the idea around with friends and ponder the benefits and drawbacks of such a lifestyle. We are supposed to forgive. It is not a matter up for debate. It is not a matter for philosophizing. It is not something we study up to the doctoral level. It is a marching order given by our Lord.
Consider this thought: there is not a word that Christ speaks that He does not expect us to obey. And so the challenge that we are given today is not simply to listen to Christ, but to hearken unto Him instead.