Mary found it. Martha missed it. I want it.
An intimate story in the life of Jesus as recorded by Luke takes us into the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Jesus and His twelve disciples stopped by for lunch that day. Martha must have known they were coming, and she had to prepare a meal for sixteen people, possibly more, most of them men. I’m sure they had servants, but I’m sure you can sympathize with Martha in the rush of that morning’s preparations.
Let’s go back in time to the morning before Jesus arrived. In my imagination, this is how it might have happened.
Out of her love for Jesus, Martha scurried around, making sure the house was clean, that the meal was progressing nicely and that the table was set. Flowers. That’s what I need to make it perfect. So she trooped outside and cut some flowers, put them in a vase and stepped back to admire her handiwork. Jesus loves roses, and these are the best I’ve seen for a long time. Won’t He be pleased?
About that time, one of the servants hurried to her and said they were out of flour. So she had to run (literally!) to the market to buy grain. While she was there, she picked up a dozen eggs. Won’t these make a nice garnish for the soup we’re serving if I boil and slice them? A pottery bowl caught her eye. She spent another ten minutes haggling over the price and finally told her servant boy to lug her treasures home.
But now she was behind schedule.
The sun had climbed the heavens and was burning through the thin scarf she wore. She looked anxiously down the dirt road, praying that the group would not arrive now. Please, God. Delay Jesus a little bit. Just until I’m ready.
Martha had a servant’s heart.
She loved putting on these dinners. She loved showing off her beautiful home on top of the hill above the valley where a cool breeze fanned a hot forehead. She took pride in their flag-stoned courtyard, the perfect place for hot travelers to rest.
She could picture Jesus here now, sitting in the best chair she had, resting His feet on the cushioned stool. His disciples would gather around Him on the benches, stools and cushions. Her servant girls would bring drinks to them as the fountain water created a cooling mist and a musical backdrop.
And they would think what a wonderful hostess she was, what a lovely home she had, how good and wholesome were the meals she cooked.
Martha frowned when Mary, her younger sister, appeared, looking wan and a little out of it. Why can’t the girl get her head on straight and do something useful for once? Like help the servants grind more wheat. Or oversee the soup-making process and make sure it tasted good? Or sweep the front step again? There might be a leaf blown onto it since the last time it was swept ten minutes ago.
She wiped her forehead from the sweat that beaded it. A headache was forming there, but she shoved the pain to the back of her mind. She didn’t have time for headaches today. Her voice was sharp when she spoke. “Mary! At least you could straighten the benches in the courtyard! Or is that too much to ask of you?”
“But, Martha, they are straight already. Why does it matter? The men will mess them up as soon as they come.” With a shrug of her pretty shoulders, Mary wandered out the open door in that direction.
From the look on Mary’s face, Martha could guess that she wouldn’t do anything, that she’d probably collapse onto a bench and stare off into the sky, thinking. What does the girl think about all the time?
Martha didn’t know and didn’t have time to ask.
She rushed to the kitchen and checked on the meal, thinking about the culinary delights she’d planned. First there would be lentil soup, served with warm bread, pats of butter, and honey. Then the servants would bring out the main dish – lamb, rice and vegetables, cooked with a savory sauce that tantalized the taste buds and brought her a lot of compliments. On the side, she had prepared fresh vegetables, along with curdled goat’s milk and cheese. Nuts and figs would also be plentiful on the table.
As the last course, she would serve the fresh strawberries she’d picked from her garden this morning. They were covered with honey and would be placed delicate cakes she’d made herself. Yes. Everything was in place. Now she could fix her hair, straighten her gown, and watch for the group coming down the lane.
But it all went strangely awry after Jesus arrived.
Along with Lazarus and Mary, she greeted Him at the door and made sure the youngest servant boy was there to wash His feet and give Him a fresh robe to wear. It was not a small task to wash the feet of thirteen men, but it was finally done, and they trooped inside, talking and laughing as they came.
They followed Lazarus to the open courtyard and found seats there, receiving wine in her best drinking cups, the ones with chased gold filigree and tiny precious stones set along the bottom edge. But they didn’t seem to notice, so engrossed were they in their talk. It was something Jesus was saying about the kingdom of God.
The meal should have been served by now, but the servants did not come out with it. She stomped to the kitchen, hot and tired, her headache full blown. There she discovered that Elizabeth, the youngest girl, had dropped a pitcher on the stone floor. It smashed into a thousand smithereens and the precious curdled goat’s milk flooded the area. They were all down on their hands and knees, mopping up the mess.
Martha put her hands on her ample hips and frowned. The soup was getting cold. The bread looked a little over-done, and the fresh vegetables were wilting in the heat. With a huge sigh, she resigned herself to the fact that she would have to get the meal on the table. She glanced into the courtyard.
She’d asked Lazarus to tell Jesus that dinner was ready, but the men hadn’t moved. They were all leaning forward, staring at Jesus like He’d said something earth-shaking. She caught her brother’s eye, and he shrugged.
And there was Mary, sitting cross-legged at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words as if mesmerized.
She didn’t even blink when a bee buzzed by and James swatted at it and missed her head by a hair. Martha’s temper snapped. She could use Mary’s help right now.
She blurted out her frustration. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” A sudden silence fell on the room. Everyone looked at her. She felt warmth spreading from her neck to her face. She wanted to drop into a hole.
Jesus’ words were spoken kindly, but they went straight to her heart. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
I wonder if Martha was embarrassed by it years later when Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote it down.
Maybe by then she could laugh about it. I can hear her saying, “Talk about words being remembered forever! One little unguarded complaint and hey! presto, the world knows about it for eternity!”
What happened after Jesus replied to her? Did she go back to the kitchen, tell the servants not to mind the spilled milk, and help them get the meal served? Did Jesus smile at her to ease her discomfort when she poured His wine a few minutes later? Did Mary finally get up and help?
What was the ONE THING Jesus was talking about? This question haunts me.
Both women loved Jesus, served Him, and after His death and resurrection, I imagine they used their gifts and talents for the rest of their lives in His service. Yet Mary got it right, and Martha did not. Awhile later, when Lazarus died, Jesus tarried and finally came after Lazarus was dead for two days. (John 11:1-44) Jesus met Martha, and when He declared, “I am the “resurrection and the life,” she responded, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She nailed it.
Yet now she seems to have missed something important. Why did Jesus rebuke Martha? What did she need to learn? Why did God feel it necessary to include this story in the Gospel records?
How can I find the one thing that is necessary?
I believe it is a matter of priorities. We see Mary, quiet and composed, sitting at Jesus’ feet, drinking in His Word. It was as if the rest of the world disappeared and nothing else mattered to her. His words were her life, her joy, her passion.
Martha, on the other hand, was focused on getting that meal on the table.
She was a practical sort, and practical people are good to have around because they get a lot of work done. Yet in the midst of her busy morning, she forgot something important.
She forgot Jesus.
The Lord of life, the King of the ages, the Savior of the world, the Messiah was coming to her house that day, and He had the words of life in his mouth and the love of the Father in his heart.
What would have happened had Martha sat down with Mary and listened to Jesus? Would they have eaten that day? There might have been some leaves on the front step and some of the cushions might have been awry on the benches. Maybe the meal wouldn’t have been so fancy, but I bet it would have been good and nourishing.
Martha could have delegated some of her tasks to her servants.
She could have thought, “Now, I want things simple and easy because I want to hear what Jesus says while He is here, so I don’t want to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off. So it’ll be a good lentil soup with bread and a few vegetables.”
The work would have gotten done. The meal would have been served. And Martha would have found that ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Which is, the way I figure, listening to Jesus. Hearing His Word. Finding friendship, love and guidance from the most important person to ever walk this earth.
I find this convicting because I, like Martha, tend to get wrapped up in things that don’t amount to a hill of beans.
I spend oodles of time on activities that should not concern me. I waste time on frivolous matters that, if left out of my life, would not matter at all.
And I’m missing the ONE THING THAT IS NECESSARY. Time spent in God’s Word, studying and memorizing and obeying it and finding peace as I sit before Him and discover His mind and His will for my day.
Our days get so busy.
You’d think that summer would be a time of relaxation, slower schedules, and tons of time to catch up on Bible reading and study. Yet the main thing I hear from everyone these days is, “I’m too busy.” It seems life is moving at a faster pace than ever before and people are rushing around with so many things to do that they can’t sit down and find a moment of peace.
We were out for our daily walk the other day and passed a lady we know who lives near us. She glanced up momentarily from her phone on which she was texting as she walked and said, “Hello.” Then her eyes went right back to the screen. Life, to her, was reduced to that 3×5″ screen.
Too busy. Too distracted. Too much.
We need to turn off the phone and the TV, turn away from the computer, stop posting on Facebook and all the rest of social media, and turn to Jesus Christ and His Word. We need to sit and be quiet without all the distractions that scream in our ears.
Martha missed it because she was too busy. Mary found it because she put Jesus first and took the time to sit quietly and listen to Him. I want it in my life.
I want to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus, read His Word, and in the quiet of that moment, find the mind of Christ, the will of God, and my joy. I want the Bible to be the focus and the passion of my life. I want to drink deeply of it and emerge into a fallen world with His words ringing in my ears.
It takes time. It is intentional. But the rewards are great.
My goal is to spend a half an hour sometime every day without my electronics on, with only the Bible spread on my lap, with my heart in tune with my Lord and Savior, and my mind focused on Him alone.
Why don’t you join me?
For one month, try this out. Use any devotional you want, but mainly focus on a portion of the Word of God. Don’t have a long prayer list that you recite to the Lord. Just come to Him and ask Him what He wants you to do that day. Worship Him. Sing Him a praise song. Give Him your heart. Tell Him how much you love Him. Then LISTEN for Him to speak to you.
If you want to take up my challenge to make August the month you are going to do this, report back to me what you’ve learned and how you feel.