Please read Luke 10:38-42 – What is of most importance?
Seek the help of the Holy Spirit as you come to God’s Word.
V38. It’s more thematic than chronological.
Again, this is one of those stories that is only found in Luke's gospel. Also, there is no connection with what has just preceded. It is as if Luke collected information about all the events, teaching, miracles, etc., of Jesus' life, and then wrote his gospel based on what he thought should go together, regardless of chronology. If it so happened that events turned out to be in chronological order, well and good, but if it wasn't in chronological order, well and good. The flow of the content was more important to Luke than the flow of time.
So what thought is Luke working off here? This chapter focuses on hearing, seeing, receiving, and responding to the Word of God, e.g., verses 10,16,21,23 and 37.
V38. In Martha’s home.
Luke is sparing with the details he provides. There is no padding here to increase the word count. Every word is precise and included for a reason. One of the victims of Luke's frugality with words is the name of the village. It's probably Bethany because that is where Mary and Martha had their home, John 11:1. John also tells us that the two women had a brother called Lazarus, but again Luke's brevity excludes any mention of him. What Luke does tell us is that the disciples left Jesus to go into the village on his own. We're not told where the disciples went to, but since Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem, an educated guess would probably say that they went there. The idea that Martha is a random woman who welcomed Jesus into her home is wide of the mark. John makes it clear that Jesus knew this family and that they knew him well. He was a close family friend. Whether Jesus had gone to the home to visit, or Martha had met him on his way through the village on the street and invited him back to the home, we can't tell; but Jesus is welcomed into a home he has been in before.
V39. What Mary is and is not doing.
The scene quickly moves to Martha's sister, Mary, and we see her sitting at Jesus' feet, listening as he is teaching. Her attention is completely on him. She hears every word that he is speaking because they are the words of life to her. Interestingly, this is all we are told about Mary here, and yet it is the one thing that the whole story hinges on. How encouraging it is when the Holy Spirit is at work, and the people of God are sitting forward in their seats listening, drinking in the Word of God. There is nothing that delights the heart of the preacher more because he knows that those before him have been moved beyond just hearing the sermon because it is interesting, well constructed, or contains a good illustration or example. He can see that God is at work. There is a Spirit engendered, heightened awareness, and the resulting focus is clear. There is nothing else like this when it happens.
V40. Martha is distracted and troubled.
Martha is none too pleased with what she sees as Mary's dalliance with playing the pupil's role. There is work to be done. The guest will have to eat. Things have to be prepared. It is alright that Mary is being consumed with listening to Jesus; she has to be consumed with trying to feed Jesus. She is all too aware of the demands upon his life and wants him to have the best, even if it is only for an hour or two. Her mind is in a completely different place from that of Mary's. It is distracted, flustered, caught up with what she thinks needs to be done, and how best to do it. To say that Martha reacts as she does because she isn't interested in what Jesus has to say, would be wrong. As soon as everything is sorted, there is no doubt that Martha would show herself to be just as interested as Mary is in Jesus' teaching. Her love for Jesus, her wanting to provide for him, is driving her to this distraction. So, let's take care not to be too harsh on Martha when we consider what she does.
Suddenly Martha leaves what she is doing and goes to Jesus. She looks him in the eye and says, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" Martha isn't angry at Mary, per se. Nor is she blaming Jesus for not telling Mary, of his own initiative, to help her. That would be at odds with her use of the term “Lord”. A term that speaks of Jesus as the divine Lord and Ruler over all, and in a special sense, namely, as the divine Messiah. Martha just wants her sister's help so that things can get done more quickly, and she is asking Jesus to tell Mary to give her a helping hand. In her mind, Jesus will obviously understand that and comply with her request.
V41. Jesus speaks to Martha’s heart.
Jesus does understand what Martha is asking, but he doesn't comply with her request. His response is tender and gentle. The use of “Martha, Martha”, conveys that. The stating of a name twice is frequent in God's Word. Here are some occasions: Abraham in Genesis 22:11, Jacob in Genesis 44:2, Moses in Exodus 3:4, Samuel in I Samuel 3:10, Simon in Luke 22:31 and Saul in Acts 9:5. One commentator writes, "it voices love in an intense way". Interestingly and pertinent, Martha is the only female to whom God's love is shown in this way. It is because Jesus loves her that he doesn't just tell Martha what to do, but rather explains to her where her heart is. In his response, he is saying, 'I understand where you are at, and I am talking to you at that place.' It is so much easier just to tell a person what to do than engage with their heart. The reason is simple; we like to be told what to do. Why? Because, if it turns out as we want, then we are good with that, and if it turns out 'wrong', then we can blame the one who told us to do it. Having the nerve to speak directly to someone's heart takes courage because it is so prone to misunderstanding. The retort can so often be, 'how do you know what I am thinking?’ But I have found, by bitter experience, that telling people what to do, unless it is calling them to be who they say they are as lovers of God, tends to be a pointless exercise. Yes, you can get a response, a degree of compliance for a while, but if the core heart issue isn't addressed, then the outward behaviour will always fall back into line with the default sinful position. Jesus addresses Martha's heart when he speaks to her and says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled by many things".
That is why it is important to understand that tender and gentle as these words are, they still contain a reproof. Martha should take care not to become distracted and troubled to such a degree, that she doesn't see and hear God's Word. That is the “one thing” that is truly necessary. Jesus draws Martha's distracted attention to the fact that Mary is sitting and listening to him speak. It is not that food preparation and serving are not necessary; of course, they are. But this “one thing” of listening to him should take precedence. Martha was concerned about food for the physical body; Mary was looking for food for the soul. It's not that the former is not important; it's that the latter must have prominence in our lives. So, Jesus tells Martha that he is not going to do as she asks. Mary will not be deprived of what she has chosen. It will not be taken from her by sending her to do what Martha wants. Jesus' intention is not to deprive Martha of the help she needs, but rather to help Martha see the pressing need of the hour – time at his feet, listening to his words.
I wonder what Martha did. Did she continue to scurry around trying to get things ready regardless? We are not told, but if I were to hazard a guess, I think she probably sat down beside her sister and listened to Jesus.
There are many necessary things we have to do. There are demands upon our lives that are important, but it is the prioritizing of them that is critical. As you prioritize your day, continue to put yourself at the Lord's feet and listen to the words he speaks to you through his Word.