Step 7: Beware of Self-Serving Service.

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daily text logoFebruary 25, 2015

Luke 10:18-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

CONSIDER THIS

Martha and Mary

A woman’s place is in . . . . .

For centuries this text has been used to create a dichotomy between prayer and action; to show how the contemplative life is better than the activist life; to extol the life of prayer over the life of busyness. To shame Martha and champion Mary.

I’m going to cut to the chase here and try to make the case for a better interpretation of the passage.

The big issue is hospitality. On the face of it, one would expect Martha to win the prize. I mean she is hustling around like a crazy woman who just found out a dozen men and the Son of God invited themselves over for dinner.

On the surface, Martha appears like the “hostess with the most-est.” Note, though, the key word from today’s text:

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

There it is. The difference between Mary and Martha isn’t really about contemplation vs. activism. It’s about attention and distraction.

I contend that Martha’s problem isn’t what she’s doing but how she’s doing it. Sometimes hospitality is about the guest and other times it’s about the host. Notice the personal pronouns in Martha’s words to Jesus.

She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

There it is. Me, myself and my and one more me. This time, it looks like the hospitality was more about Martha, the hostess,than Jesus, the guest. Martha was seized by worry and anxiety, which always turns whatever focus we had on others right back onto ourselves. Listen to Him:

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

So what one needful thing did Mary choose? It’s right there in the text a sentence or two back.

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 

Do you see it? Mary chose the one necessary thing: LISTENING TO HIM. Remember Transfiguration Mountain and that Word from God. This is that.

Mary 1. Martha 0.

It’s more than an aside, but I want to reference the radical move Jesus makes here. Jesus basically tells us that a woman’s place is not in the kitchen but in His presence. That Mary was a woman, doing what men would customarily do in the first century (i.e. sitting at Jesus’ feet); that’s the thing that wouldn’t be taken away from her as much as Martha might have wished it. And that’s an aside within this aside– sometimes the greatest enemies of women taking their rightful place of discipleship and authority in the church (and in the world) are other women.

Perhaps this is conjecture, but I think Jesus is not dissing Martha’s hospitality as much as he is critiquing it. There is a way of serving ones self under the cloak of serving others. It’s all about appearances, perfection and performance. Perhaps Martha’s sense of self and worth were all wrapped up in properly performing her role while Mary’s sense of herself was all wrapped up in her relationship to Jesus.

It’s all about that calling to. . . .

#LISTENtoHIM

J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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