“Learning from Martha”

Luke 10:38-42

July 17, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

| Centering Prayer |

I marvel at the diversity of relationships

I’ve observed between siblings, in general, and sisters in particular.

Some are so close they are able to complete each other sentences.

Some are competitive.

Others are cooperative.

Some intuitive, others distracted.

Gender matters among siblings.

Sibling relationships are shaped and molded by life circumstances.

Birth order, emotional health, acceptance, and love are key ingredients for healthy development.

Crisis, trauma, stress, violence, abuse can poison an otherwise healthy relationship and lead to separation, disease, even death.

Caring for an aging loved one

Sends ripples throughout sibling relationships.

Hold on tight when it comes to death, mourning, and estate distribution.

At the end of the day

When the sun is setting

Sit with your sibling (if so blessed) and drink in the moment

In the presence of God.

Close the gap and be at peace.

The narrative of Mary, Martha, and Jesus is as familiar

As a thirty-year-old pair of shoes.

Familiarity with scripture comes with its own danger.

It becomes easy to take it for granted,

As if all God’s gems of truth have already been extracted,

As if there is nothing left to learn.

What is to be learned?

What does it mean?

How can I apply it to my life?

1. There is much to be learned in this familiar passage.

It is found only in the Gospel of Luke.

It is absent from Matthew, Mark, and John.

John has a narrative about a different Mary and Martha,

Who have a brother, Lazarus, who live in Bethany,

But that is a different family.

It is a part of Luke’s travel narrative,

A description of events between Jesus, his disciples, and those encountered

As they make their way south from Galilee

To Jerusalem, his geographical and theological destination.

Our narrative follows Jesus sending and receiving 70 disciples

To bring peace, cure the sick, and proclaim the close proximity of God’s kingdom.

Jesus answers a lawyer’s question about inheriting eternal life

By teaching him the parable of the good Samaritan,

As we heard last Sunday.

Still early in his multiple day journey

Jesus is welcomed into the home of Mary and Martha.

Much of the painting is left incomplete.

Where are the parents? (if there are any)

Are there any other family members or guests?

How many?

Mary remains silent.

She doesn’t say a word.

The dialogue is exclusively between Martha and Jesus.

There are two dangerous pitfalls to avoid

When interpreting and discerning this narrative.

First, is to avoid casting Mary and Martha as an archetype

Of two different, exclusive approaches to discipleship:

One to learn, the other is to serve.

Learning and serving are not mutually exclusive.

It’s not a zero-sum game.

Both can be true.

Neither may be true.

One way is not greater than another.

Secondly, gender matters; avoid typecasting.

Generalities easily do violence.

They are women.

They are sisters.

Most importantly to Jesus

They are individuals with names

Created in the near perfect image of God.

2. What does it mean?

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus gently chides,

“You are worried and distracted by many things;

there is need of only one thing.

Mary has chosen the better part,

which will not be taken away from her.” (10:41-42)

One thing.

Perhaps Jesus is communicating to Martha

That he doesn’t expect a fancy, multi-course meal.

Or, maybe Jesus is advocating for simplicity,

A simple, uncomplicated approach to discipleship.

I’d suggest the one thing Jesus is referring to

Is the Word of God.

Logos, in the Greek.

The Word of God,

As spoken by Jesus and received by Mary,

As taught by Jesus to his disciples, the crowds, and powers that be,

As recorded by Gospel authors, editors, and redactors,

As birthed and baked into the values of the early Christian Church,

As delivered, received, and discerned by us today.

Pay attention to the Word of God,

The language of Jesus.

Listen with a critical ear

Because questions are good.

Questions lead the curious to previously unrecognized truth.

God speaks through these truths

And reveals Divine will for our

Individual and collective lives.

The Word of God brings reverence and caution.

We worship God, not the Word.

The Word is the bridge between God’s will and our will,

But it is not the focus of praise or thanksgiving.

Be cautious;

The devil quotes scripture,

Knows it better than you or me.

Be cautious;

Keep scripture clear of motive and intention,

Subverting the will of God

To the will of the self.

Be cautious;

Not proof text, that is,

to take scripture out of context.

Be reverent;

Handle the words of Jesus with sacred respect.

Learn the trajectory of God’s salvation history embedded in the Word

And humbly find your place in it.

3. How can I apply it to my life?

Jesus correctly identifies the source of Martha’s anger and resentment.

He tells her she is worried and distracted by many things.

Worry and distractions.

When I worry,

My relationship with God suffers.

I fail to rely upon God and tend to trust in my own ability or strength.

Worry that isn’t checked and contained

Can contribute to chronic anxiety,

A decline in mental health.

If the object of worry can not be changed,

Turn it over to God.

God created it.

God can change it.

If the object of worry can be changed,

Be the change

That God has called you to be.

See the need,

Meet the need,

Exceed expectations.

The distractions of Martha

Encourages us to examine the distractions of our own life.

Distractions steal our focus away from Jesus.

Like Martha,

We may be distracted by doing good things

Instead of doing the right thing.

I suspect we share many of the same distractions.

Here are my top ten.

  1. Idle talk, instead of issues of the heart and soul.
  2. Money. Accumulation, compensation. stewardship, temptations, investments, especially in this period of inflation and recession.
  3. Pride. My need to justify myself, prove myself, show my best side while hiding my least lovely characteristics.
  4. Body shape and size. Weight, diet, consumption, calories, clothing, surgery, appearance, grooming, looking good and feeling good, even though I disappoint myself ten out of ten times.
  5. Health. Aches, pains, disease, questions, the unknown. Decline, and rate of decline. Repair, and rate of rehabilitation. Memory.  
  6. Aging. Changes, transitions, housing, nourishment, who is in and who is out of my social circles.
  7. The mysterious nature of God and faith. “It’s mysterious for a reason!” I tell myself.  
  8. Unhealthy thoughts about sex. Objectification. Violence. Exploitation. Boundaries. Inuendo. Identity. Attraction. Disgust.
  9. Politics that are unbending, not listening, offensive, aggressive, that don’t square themselves with the Gospel. 
  10. The human manipulations of the Church, the Body of Christ. Denominations. General Conference. Schism. Unification. Appointments. Power. Authority.

This is my list.

I encourage you, dearly beloved,

To put pen to paper and make your own list.

What are your distractions

That keep you from the better part

The one thing

That Jesus is talking about?

Not the good thing,

But the right thing,

The Word and will of God?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s