Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38–42
It’s easy to forget that ‘a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home’. It was Martha’s home and Jesus was her guest. And when it’s your home, you’re in charge and you expect your guests to be grateful for your hospitality.
Was Martha the older of the two sisters—or the younger one who was left behind to look after her parents in their old age? Almost certainly, she wa the keepers of the house, even if she had a younger brother, Lazarus, waiting to inherit when he came of age, and that makes her the dominant player in our story, as she is also in the story about her in John chapter 11?
Was Mary there by Martha’s invitation? Had she perhaps come over from her marital home to help with the catering for this special occasion, or so that she too could meet Jesus?
Whereas Simon the Pharisee simply 'invited’ Jesus into his home but did not offer to wash his feet, we’re told that Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus. Luke doesn’t go into details, but presumably a welcome to a special guest did include foot washing otherwise Simon wouldn’t have been reproached by Jesus for not washing his feet. One commentator points out that ‘we don’t know who did the foot-washing on this occasion, but we do know that ‘Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.’
Did Martha intend to get Jesus’ attention and approval all for herself by playing the role of the generous and hard working host? If so, things now began to backfire, because while Martha busied herself with getting the meal ready, the culmination of tasks which may have taken several hours, Mary obstinately remained at Jesus’ feet, apparently hanging on every word he uttered, and in doing so she began to deflect attention from the very different way in which Martha was being attentive to him. Perhaps Martha felt she was being sidelined and cast in an unfavourable light by Mary’s very different way of expressing her devotion. After all, none of us likes to be taken for granted or to have someone else ‘take the Mickey’ out of us!
Whatever Martha’s motives may have been, Jesus took Mary’s side when she intervened. He publicly rebuked his host, telling Martha - somewhat ungratefully I feel - that Mary had chosen ‘the better part’. As the commentator puts it, ‘Rather than wanting Jesus to look at her and be impressed by all her hard work, Mary was content to listen and discover all that she could about Jesus’ [message].’
Martha felt that she was looking after and supporting Jesus, whereas Mary was looking to him for  support. Perhaps, therefore, the story is supposed to show us that discipleship is about attending to Jesus’ words and example, not about attending on him or doing things to make a good impression. The mistake people often make is to imagine that discipleship is primarily about us and what we can do for Jesus, whereas it must begin with Jesus and what he can do for us.

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