May 23 2013
Martha opened her home to Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). Her sister Mary lived there too, but this was Martha’s house. She was the dominant person and everyone knew it. Martha means ‘Sovereign or Ruling Lady,’ which is quite fitting. No one messed with her; she was outspoken and quick to put you in your place. She even tried it with Jesus. But Martha also had a more endearing side. She was a great host. As long as you were in her house you were looked after. I imagine her to be like an industrious B&B lady who takes pride in her ability to cater for everyone who comes her way. Do you know her?
Now Luke says Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. If you have had guests arrive before you are ready you know the situation. They want to talk to you, but you are still preparing. But Mary wasn’t; she was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to all he had to say. So Luke’s description gives a strong contrast here; Martha is ‘distracted’ and Mary is ‘listening.’ Martha is rushing about huffing and puffing, and Mary is focused on her guest.
♦ Eventually Martha appears in front of Jesus and her sister. She is angry and says “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her to help me!”
Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha,” in his most ‘we know you’ tone. “You are worried and upset about many things (i.e. wanting everything to be just right) but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Better?! What was better? Martha was serving Jesus! What could be better than that? Relationship; knowing Jesus intimately is better. Mary had chosen to know Jesus. This is more important than serving him. Our serving must come out of knowing him. This is the one thing that is needed!
Responsibility often distracts from relationship. We’ve seen it in families. A parent thinks that to love their child is to provide for them. So they work day and night to provide, but they don’t have quality time with their children. They provide but there’s little relationship. Relationship with your spouse and children will always be more important than providing for them. Rather be poor and present than rich and absent. Relationship is the one thing that is needed.
Pastors make Martha’s mistake too. They allow the responsibilities of running a church to distract then from relationship with Jesus, and before they know it they are running on empty; they need to minister but they have no fire because the flame went out. We are supposed to minister out of our personal experience of God; out of our intimacy with him. When our teaching is theoretical it is dry, when it is out of personal experience it is powerful.
But let’s get back to Martha’s house. Jesus has just affirmed Mary and at this point she switches gear. In fact she gets embarrassing! But to know what happened we have to switch to John’s account (John 12:2-8*). Mary suddenly pours a whole bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet and begins to wipe his feet with her hair! The whole house is shocked, and Judas becomes the second person to point a finger at Mary. The perfume was expensive and he felt it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But as John explains Judas kept the money bag and often stole from it, so he had other motives for saying this.
We don’t fully understand Mary’s actions here. What we do know is that it was an expression of adoration for Jesus. In other words, it was worship, but not normal worship. We may be shocked by her actions, but so were those in the room at the time. So why did she have to do it that way? Why the strange approach? The answer is simple; Mary acted from her heart. When we act from the heart we often do creative things. Think of lovers; they often find the most inventive ways to express their love. It may be in a poem, or a gift, or an unusual marriage proposal. But it doesn’t just happen in romance, it also happens in our love for parents, children, or lifelong heroes. The adoring heart is a well of imagination and innovation.
Now there is a lesson in this. When our worship is truly a product of our heart it tends towards a fresh expression; fresh words and fresh ways. We should never get stuck in mindless rituals where we pray and sing the same stuff day after day and week after week. Keeping repetition fresh is a tough business. When we pray we should dig into our hearts for what is there today, the fresh manna, and allow it to come out as it is. This is what Mary was doing, and Jesus loved it. It was shocking, but he knew it was all heart, and that’s what he was after.
Now I am sure some were embarrassed. I’m sure some were wondering ‘Why is she doing that with her hair; why is she touching him like that?’ Sometimes believers today have had similar questions, ‘Why are we singing these intimate love songs to Jesus; why are we using such tender descriptions.’ Well those songs came from a heart like Mary’s. They are not about romance, but they are about intimacy. Romance isn’t the only kind of intimacy that gets embarrassing; remember your mom kissing you in front of all your teenage friends?! Intimacy involves closeness and transparency and we humans are not always comfortable with that.
Let’s be clear; Mary had no romantic inclination towards Jesus. The reason why Mary worshipped him in such an extravagant and intimate way is this; Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead and now she was seeing Jesus with new eyes. He wasn’t just a Rabbi; he represented God. Mary was having the kind of revelation Peter had when he said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). When that revelation gets this personal the heart knows no boundaries. And this is the kind of worship God is after. Martha and Judas attacked Mary’s worship, but Jesus said Mary had chosen what is better, in fact she had chosen the one thing that was really needed. Think on it and give us your thoughts below.
*If John is describing a different incident in Martha’s house, it is with the same people in the same position: Martha serving and Mary at Jesus’ feet. So the main points I draw still stand.
Other Illustrations used: B&B in Europe | The development of Hymns, Praise and Intimate songs.
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