“She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” Luke10:39 (NAS)
There are many lessons we can learn from the relationship that Martha and Mary had with Jesus. From the scriptures we are privy to three very significant encounters these two sisters had with Jesus and the ensuing exchanges of dialogue give us great insight into their unique relationships with Him.
We are first introduced to these two women in the gospel of Luke when Martha invites Jesus into their home as He and His disciples happen to be passing through their town of Bethany. We learn right away that they are very different in their motivation and approach in relating to Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha’s love language is serving and hospitality while Mary’s is sitting and listening. Both approaches have their place. Jesus’ teaching about the virtues of both servanthood and prayer closet disciplines affirm that. But much has been made of Martha’s frustration with Mary’s lack of help and Jesus response to her. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (vs. 40-41)
There are two very important lessons we can glean from this encounter with Jesus. First and most obvious, there are times when serving Jesus is less important than sitting and listening to Jesus. In fact service that is most pleasing to Jesus must flow out of first sitting and listening to what He would have us do. Many of us like Martha have a tendency to put the proverbial serving cart before the attentive horse. And we must always be mindful that an unmet need does not necessarily constitute a call to meet it.
The second lesson here is the point Bible scholars make about Jesus’ liberating women from the traditional roles that restricted them from full participation in spiritual teaching and nurture. Many conjecture that Mary was crashing a men’s only gathering as she sat there at Jesus’ feet and that part of Martha’s frustration was Mary’s non conformity to the requisite role of women being in the kitchen. It is noteworthy that, as was Jesus’ habit, once more He sweeps aside accepted convention in deference to true spirituality.
The next time we find Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary, also at their invitation, is under entirely different circumstances. (John 11:1-44) They send word that Lazarus their brother is sick. But during Jesus’ delay in coming Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrives Martha, the proactive one, is the first to approach Him. In contrast, and this is interesting, Mary the contemplative, once again chooses to remain “seated in the house.” (vs. 20) The outspoken Martha becomes engaged with Jesus in a conversation that He uses to comfort her with the promise of the resurrection and elicit from her a confession of faith. Jesus then asks for Mary and Martha relays His message to her. When Mary goes to Jesus she uses the identical phrase that Martha had used “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs. 21 & 32) But that is the only similarity in their approaches to Jesus. Unlike Martha, Mary simply falls at His feet weeping. Jesus is so moved that He weeps as well and the rest is history. (vs. 33-35)
These two women and their unique encounters here with the Master, are once again a study in contrast. They affirm the viability of both the activist and contemplative approaches to Jesus while underscoring the importance of time spent sitting and listening at His feet. Nothing seems to touch the heart of God more than humbling ourselves and “being” with Him at His feet.
The final encounter the two sisters have with Jesus is just a week before His impending death. (John 12:1-8) Once again they invite Jesus into their home, but this time for a dinner party. That by the way is one lesson worth emulating from all three of these accounts. Invite Jesus into your home! It has life changing implications for everyone involved!
We are told the resurrected Lazarus is there which is remarkable in and of itself. But what transpires is even more remarkable for a two reasons. First, Martha the inveterate “hostess with the mostess” is again serving. (vs. 2) Now either she hadn’t learned anything from earlier experience or this was a case where her serving was an appropriate response to the occasion. I will let you be the judge. Personally I think she was simply functioning in her gifting and that intrinsically was pleasing to Jesus.
Secondly, Mary is again at the feet of Jesus! This time she is anointing His feet with costly perfume and wiping them with her hair. Although the disciples complain that this is a waste, Jesus extols her behavior as both a prophetic act foreshadowing His burial and more importantly an expression loving devotion. (vs. 7-8)
Taken in toto, we can see that Mary’s demeanor and approach to Jesus again and again deeply touched His heart. In all three stories we find her faithfully sitting or clinging to the feet of Jesus, listening to Him, beseeching Him and worshipping Him. And His response to her was always positive and personally affirming. Obviously it is required that we serve Him as Martha did. But service that moves the heart and hand of God must always begin at His feet.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
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