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Meals with Jesus
Supper with Martha and Mary




Meals with Jesus




Cuthbert cross

Supper with Martha and Mary 


Read St Luke 10 : 38-42 (NIV)  

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that we should 'love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength' so giving our whole being to God. Loving God should be our number one priority. Our heart's desire should be to know God more, to want to spend time in His presence so we can become more like Him so we need to give Jesus his rightful place in our lives, He must have first place in all our thoughts and actions.  

In the passage from Luke (above), both Martha and Mary had that deep desire to be with Jesus. Both sisters in their own way were endeavouring to put Jesus first and yet we see that on this occasion, while Martha was worried and troubled about many things, Mary chose the right thing - the better part. The contrast between the two sisters is not between service and listening but between the attentiveness of the disciple and the anxious uproar of someone who is missing the opportunity of the moment. Martha was missing what Jesus was offering her, the opportunity to step out of her role as a woman, dictated by culture and religion, and to become a disciple. In our busy lives, how often do we do the same, missing the opportunity to be still and know God, to listen to His voice and to grow in our relationship with Him? In the story, Martha showed responsibility in her service, which was good, and yet sometimes what is good can get in the way of what is better. In her busyness she was too distracted to sit at Jesus' feet and absorb His presence, too busy living life to quietly hear what Jesus had to say, too involved with all her activities and actions that she didn't find time to first listen to the voice of Christ. Listening must precede action - as Jesus said, we are to be hearers and doers and in that order. Listening is the first face of love and love then flows out through listening. Yes, we are called to serve others but first and foremost we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. It is from hearts filled with love for Him that all good works and acts of love flow as we serve others in His name. So we see that Mary adopts a waiting, listening attitude to Jesus, emphasising the need for spiritual growth through waiting on Him in study and prayer. This growth should also lead on to Christian living and action. 

martha and mary

In this passage there is a warning to us all of being too busy and not finding time for important things - for focusing on God's priorities. The greatest commandment shows that love is a priority for God and so it should be our priority too. It is often said that love is spelt T.i.m.e. and so it is important that we spend time with God so we can grow in our relationship with Him. And yet so often in our lives we never seem to have enough time to do things and we find ourselves saying 'Sorry I'd love to but I've no time', 'great idea but no time', 'can't talk sorry no time', 'I'd like to help but no time. Now being busy is fine, but what a waste if we're so blinkered and preoccupied with our busyness that we miss out on something that God has planned for us. God has given us the time, just enough of it, to do what He wants us to do. It is up to us to find that purpose by listening to God and then obeying and following His plan. We need to appreciate the many blessings we receive from God and that each moment is given to us by the grace of God so we should use our time wisely and to glorify God. We shouldn't try to work God into our schedule but should work our schedule around God. God must come first in our lives and in doing that we will then find time for everything else. Eugene Peterson speaks of prioritising time and says the appointment calendar is the tool with which to get un-busy, as it is the one thing society accepts as authority. He says that if someone approaches him and asks him to pronounce the invocation at an event and he says, 'I don't think I should do that, I was planning to use that time to pray,' the response will be, 'well, I'm sure you can find another time to do that.' But if he says, 'my appointment calendar will not permit it,' no further questions are asked. He then says that if someone asks him to attend a committee meeting and he says, 'I was thinking of taking my wife out to dinner that night, I haven't listened to her carefully for several days,' the response will be, ' but you are much needed at this meeting; couldn't you arrange another evening with your wife?' But if he says, 'the appointment calendar will not permit it,' there is no further discussion. He points out that the trick is to get to the appointment calendar before anyone else, mark out times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for silence and solitude out of which creative work can issue. If central needs are met, there is time for everything else. If there is no time to nurture these essentials, Peterson says he becomes a busy pastor, harassed and anxious, a whining, compulsive Martha instead of a contemplative Mary.  

What about our priorities? Do we fuss about order, ceremony, laying the table correctly and so lose sight of what hospitality is really about? Do we fail to listen properly? Do we give enough time to prayer and reflection or do we feel that prayer and bible study have to be done as quickly as possible in order to get on with other things in life? Are our priorities in line with God's priorities? The Lord instructs us to set our priorities straight. We are not only to be His host, to do His work, but also to be His guest, to spend time getting to know Him and to be still and listen to Him. In Luke 9, God says of Jesus, 'this is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him.' We are to be Jesus' guest because He is God's son, God's chosen servant. His words are the words of life. To listen to Him is to drink from the well of living water. If we are not His guests, we are turning our backs on God's wondrous and free salvation. We need to make time for God - no one else can do that for you, spend time alone with God, listening and expecting to hear from Him. Each one of us is special and precious to God and we need to rest in His presence, be still and know that He is God and He gives us love, joy, peace and strength to live each day for Him alone. 

So often when we read this short well-known story of Martha and Mary, we tend to ask are you a Martha or are you a Mary? Martha seems to get the raw deal and yet Jesus does not condemn Martha for serving as being a host and a guest are both necessary. We are to listen and serve so rather than choosing between Mary and Martha, we should rather bring our inner Mary into balance with our inner Martha. There may be a 'better part' but that doesn't necessarily mean there is a better woman. 

If we look closer at this story, we see that Jesus and His disciples appeared unexpectedly at the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany. How would you have felt if you suddenly had 13 guests drop in unexpectedly for dinner? In these days there was not the option to go to a restaurant or order a carry out, you wouldn't have been able to pull something out of a freezer and throw a meal together. Instead you would probably have to start from scratch, grinding flour and baking bread. Hospitality was seen as very important, your ability to offer hospitality said everything about who you were and the level of respect you had for your guests. Martha was a good hostess, always busy, showing her love in practical ways. Mary had a different personality, wanting to be near Jesus, even if it meant neglecting the usual customs. Martha probably wanted to listen but was distracted by the pressure of being a good hostess, jumping up and down and feeding 13 guests. I'm sure we can relate to Martha's frustration and stress as she rushes about doing her best for Jesus while her sister just sits at his feet. It doesn't seem fair - poor Martha - no wonder she is upset! Somebody had to prepare the meal! So Martha was doing what was expected of her. It was Mary who was being unconventional. This explains why Martha was upset and so rebuked Mary in front of Jesus. It also tells us of the close relationship Jesus had with these friends. The fact that Martha could take her feelings to Jesus and involve him in a family argument shows how unselfconscious they were with each other. Usually when we have guests to dinner any disagreements are kept hidden till later. In Jesus saying that Mary had chosen the right thing, He was not saying that Martha shouldn't feed them but was saying that friendship was more important and was suggesting gently that giving so much time to food left no time to give to Him. He may have been suggesting to Martha not to fuss over a lavish meal but rather a snack would do so they could then spend more time together. Nothing is more important than being Jesus' guest and this has eternal consequences. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, 'What good will it be for man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?' Only one thing is needed - Knowing Jesus, listening to Him, being His guest is the only really important thing in life, everything else is, or should be secondary. We need a captivating, adoring heart that responds to the extravagant love of God with worship. Giving all for Jesus, the source of all life, love incarnate, we need to focus on Him alone. Jesus said, 'only one thing is needed.' 

Yet as a Church we can so easily get caught up in 'Martha syndrome'. We may get caught up in committee meetings, budgets, buildings and we forget the number one concern. Like Martha we are distracted by much serving. As a Church, our number one concern has to be knowing and listening to Jesus, being His guest. As individuals we can also easily get caught in 'Martha syndrome', always so much to do, at work, at home or at Church. Martha was distracted, while Mary was disciplined. Are we distracted by things that may be good within themselves but hinder us from having a deeper relationship with Christ? Duty to family, responsibilities to work! Christ must be our first priority and so family can't come before our service to the Lord and family and work can't come before the kingdom of God. So are we disciplined? Do we seek what is better, seeking first the kingdom of God? Are we too busy to spend time with Jesus? 

Imagine if Jesus suddenly knocked on your door, how would you react? No doubt you would bid him welcome, invite him to come in and make himself at home, of course you would! No doubt you would also secretly wish he'd told you in advance, so that you could get ready, make the place tidy and prepare the food, so that you could focus on Him, spend time with Him. So when Jesus comes to you in the midst of your everyday busyness, how do you react? Do you politely ask Him to come back later when you're not so preoccupied and hard-pressed? Do you invite Him in then leave Him alone, while you continue with what you were doing before? Do you stop what you're doing and sit at His feet for a while but then make it clear that you have no more time? Do you invite Him to join you in your tasks and talk to Him while you work alongside each other? Do you keep the conversation polite and formal, fearing difficult personal questions? How often do we not even hear His knock on our door? How often do we find ourselves running so hard after God, trying so hard to please God or please others, giving everything we have to see that the work gets done, and finding at the end of the day that the joy we should feel, the peace we should have earned, the rest we so deserve, is just out of reach. Rather than fulfilment, we feel only stress, frustration and despair. 

We are called to love and to serve Christ but for our lives to be truly worshipful and life giving, we need to approach our work, our tasks, our responsibilities from a perspective that acknowledges the hand of providence, the presence of God, at work in our good actions and intentions. First we have to be still and know God. We are called as Martha and Mary to serve Jesus. We're also called to listen to Him, to get to know him better, to be His guest. Let us not be too busy to spend time with God. Don't be worried or distracted by many things. The world will not stop revolving if you don't get everything done. Remember that the Lord loves you no matter what; His love is unconditional and not dependent on your productivity. Mary understood this, recognising that for all her responsibilities as a woman to play host to Jesus, and for all the social restrictions that would place her in the kitchen far from His feet, there was something more important. There was something more that needed to be honoured. There was someone present who was more, required more, demanded more of her than that she simply go about her business and fulfil her everyday roles and responsibilities. So Mary responded by valuing herself more, allowing herself to claim the time and space to allow that something more to become manifest in her home and in her life. That something more was the Lord Himself. That something more was a relationship with Jesus. And the same Lord held his hands out to Martha, not to scold her, but to invite her in as well. To invite her to stop, to reconsider, and to sit down beside her sister. Jesus invites every one of us to be His guest, to be still in His presence, to know Him better and grow in our relationship with Him. So let us choose the right thing and the better part, and not get weighed down and distracted by other things but rather keep our focus on Christ, seeking first His kingdom so we can then serve Him with hearts full of love and devotion, offering our whole life in humble service to our Lord and Master. Amen. 


Iona Pringle, June 2017


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