Mary and Martha
Luke 10: 38-42
Sermon: “Welcoming God”
I loved having sisters read this Scripture for you today! I’ll let them determine who is the Mary and who is the Martha in their household! J Sibling love is playful, and fun, and as my sons would say…annoying at times. Mary and Martha are no different. They are sisters—they assuredly love one another, but they also clearly approach the world in different ways.
This passage has been preached on more times than probably anyone can count. It’s a familiar one, and often we walk away wondering, “okay, are we the Martha’s or are we the Mary’s?” And we yearn to be the one that Jesus needs us to be. But yet, we also know deep down that both are needed, and both are not bad. We may find ourselves understanding the frustration of Martha, but we may also long to be what Mary is. In a way, we’re focusing on the wrong thing if we spin our wheels trying to determine which way to be. Our focus should redirect…to the who who is welcomed into the home.
Martha is frustrated, and she doesn’t keep that frustration to herself. “Lord!” “Do you not care?” What an honest, earnest prayer. It’s a good prayer. It’s one, that if we’re honest, we’ve all prayed.
Here's the thing. Martha is annoyed, because she knows this is not normal! Mary does normally help!
Sometimes different occasions call for a different action. Not the one we’d normally give or do, but something different. Something that makes sense for the moment.
We are learning from this Scripture about Mary & Martha, that different occasions call for different emphases. I remember when I taught elementary school in Dallas, Texas and my principal said she rules the school with fair and unequal treatment. What she meant was, not every situation merits the exact same response. She’ll be fair, but she won’t treat everyone the same.
Have you been out to eat lately at one of the popular restaurants in the area. Thewaiters and waitresses have this thing that they do now…as they awkwardly wait for you to pay via the machine and their eyes try and not catch whether or not you leave a nice tip, they’ll ask the question, “So, do you have any plans for the night?” Every time. The exact same question. It annoys me every time. I finally asked a waiter…why do you all ask this? It feels out of place to me—it feels intrusive in a way—do you really care what I’m doing after I eat at your nice restaurant? Finally, the waiter nailed it for exactly how I’ve felt. He said—the management makes us ask that question and it drives me crazy. Me, too, I said! He replied…“because I’m a grown man and I know how to do my job. And, I think I do it well.” But, to ask every single customer the question “So, do you have any plans for the rest of the night” assumes that every customer is the same. He said, “they’re not.” And as a waiter, I know how to read the room, and certainly read the table. If a couple is grieving over a loss and just simply came out for a change of scenery, and to have a quiet meal and glass of wine together. I can tell. They don’t want to be peppered with questions. What are they doing with the rest of their night? Well, they may be going home to cry together.
Fair and unequal treatment. Customers who are not the same. Mary’s who are needed at one time, and Martha’s who are needed for another time. Read the room. Jesus did, and what was needed for this moment, was a Mary response. What is the posture needed for the moment? A posture of listening, or a posture of doing?
What does this story look like for the household of faith? We might see some resemblance? The church is full of doers, and the church is full of pray-ers. Cynthia Jarvis writes that “some are destined to live out their discipleship in the details of the common life: preparing meals, counting money, caring for the homebound, organizing outreach to the poor.” While others are “disciples in service to the word: study and prayer, worship and preaching, evangelism and teaching.” Here’s the thing…both are necessary. What does this story say to us about how we the church show hospitality toward the kingdom of God coming near?
Jesus emphasizes to Martha that she is distracted, but there is only need of one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her! The nature of the welcome that Jesus seeks is one that shows a community of hospitality marked by the attention the community gives God’s word.
As a church, are we positioned at Christ’s feet—hungry not just for food that fills our stomachs, but for the word that fills our lives and hearts. James Wallace writes that “Hospitality is not primarily about the food; more important is the focus.” Our faith must be nurtured so that when we wrestle with hard questions and decisions, we approach as a faith seeking understanding.
How do we do that? We start in our very homes, just as Mary and Martha were with Jesus. Gathering around a table together, fellowshipping in our homes together, again. We have missed this, friends. We long for this. As we think through our visioning for our church, we begin in our homes—and not just our physical homes where we live, but our church home. Right here in this place! Some of the most profound moments in ministry are when we are gathered side by side in conversation together. Live-stream is good for sharing widely, but live-stream is not the same as ministry together side by side. Life together is what we seek. Life in ministry, which may very well be full of doing and busy bodies…but that will only be fruitful if our first need is met—listening to the word of Jesus. Being still enough to hear, and open enough to seek that which we may not even know we needed all along. There is need for only one thing. Jesus.
Theologian John Shea observes that, “while in the English we hear that Mary has chosen “the better part,” in Greek the word is translated as ‘good.’” Meaning that Mary has chosen the connection to God, who is good.”
Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, Jesus says. The one thing. John Wesley points out that Jesus didn’t say the best thing. Or the most important thing. Jesus says the only thing. And what’s that? To sit at the feet of Jesus. To learn from him, pray to him, be his disciple.
 Jarvis, Cynthia. FOW Commentary.
 FOW, Commentary, p. 265.
 Ibid, p. 267.
 In Heitzenrater’s sermon collection.