Mary and Martha Host Jesus for Dinner

Meditation on Luke 10:38-42

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 17, 2022

Link to livestreamed recording: https://fb.watch/eldNUKMFvV/

Jim and I hosted our first fellowship gathering at the manse this week. We welcomed the deacons and their spouses and children on Wednesday night for a cook-out. Jim grilled and our guests brought delicious food to share. We had a feast, and it was a lovely time!

Remembering the days and weeks of preparation before the gathering, I wondered why I worried so much about the details, though I tried not to.

I think because it mattered to me so much. I just wanted it to be special for those who were coming and show my appreciation for all their service to our congregation. It was my way of saying, “Thank you for caring for our church family, for being Christ’s hands and feet.”

***

Is it a coincidence that our lectionary gospel reading this week is the story of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha? I didn’t plan it, but God certainly has perfect timing. The heartwarming story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus for dinner is only found in the gospel of Luke.

It’s so short—4 verses—that you can almost overlook it, tucked between the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Lord’s Prayer. And yet, it’s one of my favorite passages in Luke. Why? Because it’s so real. I can imagine it. I can identify with it. Can you?

I’ve always admired Marthas, as I picture them like Martha Stewart. They make everything from scratch, and everything tastes delicious. People are constantly asking for recipes and advice about cooking and entertaining. They set a beautiful table with floral centerpieces and napkins folded like swans.

Am I describing anyone you know?

Martha of Bethany—sister to Mary and Lazarus, the one whom Jesus will raise from the dead in John chapter 11—is struggling as the host for Jesus, despite her being the one to invite him to dinner! It could just be because she wants everything to be perfect for him. And now her sister Mary is shirking her duties, and Martha can’t do everything all by herself.

Martha may be upset that Mary doesn’t seem to know her place—that women belong in the kitchen, not sitting at the feet of the great spiritual Teacher, hanging on his every word. Martha knows her place! She is doing exactly what her society expects of a woman.

If it weren’t for Martha, there would be nothing to eat or drink! A houseful of Marys would result in people going hungry and thirsty, though they might be drinking Living Water—to never be spiritually thirsty again. Martha is probably the eldest in her family and possibly a widow. She has the gifts of leadership and hospitality. Without Martha, Jesus might never have met this faithful family in the village of Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.

For their story in Luke begins, Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him.”

Let’s consider for a moment the importance of women in Mary and Martha’s time and place. Have you noticed that in the stories of Jesus more women are unnamed than those who are named?

The Samaritan woman at the well. What’s her name?

The widow who gives the least valuable coin as her offering and the greatest gift in the temple treasury because she gives all she has. What’s her name?

What about the woman Jesus heals, the one who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years, when he is on the way to heal Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter? What is her name? And what is the daughter’s name?

Don’t you wish we knew?

So we can conclude this: if a woman is named in the stories of Jesus, she must be important to Christ’s ministry and to the lessons the Lord God wants us to learn for today—to apply to our lives of faith.

The first thought or concern I have to share about this passage is that I want to make sure you know that Jesus is not picking on Martha when he gently corrects her. I have listened to sermons that are sharply critical of Martha and hold Mary up on a pedestal and miss the point of this passage. Martha is not a villain. Mary is not a saint. Jesus doesn’t love one more than the other; he loves both the same!

He isn’t angry at Martha for trying to bless him and the disciples when they are guests in her home.  This is an opportunity for Jesus to teach Martha about God’s love and grace—and that his expectations for her and Mary and the rest of the female disciples are nothing like what the world expects of them in their time or what they expect of themselves.

Jesus is trying to comfort Martha in her distress and teach her a new way of life—the way of peace, rather than the path of anxiety and distraction. It isn’t Martha’s busy-ness that is her problem! It’s the anxiety that drives her to busy-ness and perfectionism. Her anxiety gets in the way of her seeing and accepting Christ’s love, for she begins her question to Jesus, “Don’t you care?” In other words, “Why don’t you love me?”

Jesus assures her, “Martha, Martha’—he says her name twice, so you know right away that he DOES care!—“you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one– Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is that one thing, dear friends? The better part?  Knowing the Lord and accepting Christ’s love, a love that can never be taken away from us.

***

Time just flew by at the deacon gathering Wednesday night. People arrived around 7, and suddenly, it was dark and 9:30; people were getting ready to go home. I was wishing I had more time with them. I was sad to see them leave.

I wondered afterward, “Did I let go of the concern for all the details soon enough to just enjoy being in the presence of Christ’s humble servants? Did I let go of the concern for all the details soon enough to enjoy being in the presence of Christ himself, who is with us in all our gatherings in His name?”

I honestly think I stopped worrying as soon as the first people arrived and asked how they could help. They all asked how they could help!! The deacons, with their gifts of humble service, made me feel welcome, comfortable, and cared for—what I hoped to make them feel. There was so much delicious food, smiles and laughter, and the sharing of stories. Kindness reigned. One young man and his mom, during the party, restacked our woodpile that had fallen over in a storm. Many of the deacons stayed to clear and wipe tables, wash dishes, and put away the food.

I will have another opportunity to serve this Tuesday night, when our Session and their families come for a picnic at the manse instead of our regular Session meeting. It will be a chance for me to get to know them more and to say to our servant leaders, “Thank you for everything you do for the Lord and our congregation.”

I can’t promise that I won’t worry about all the details before the gathering. Because it’s in my nature to worry—as it was probably in Martha’s nature to worry and to want to give her very best for the Lord.

Our Savior is waiting for all of us to come to him, like Martha did, and ask for help with the problems of today and tomorrow. There will always be struggles—and new lessons to be learned on our journeys of faith. The Lord welcomes us just as we are—and loves us too much to leave us that way. Jesus is still using moments like these, as we gather around the Word, illumined by the Spirit, to teach us what we need to know to be his disciples, to follow him more faithfully.

Following Christ means challenging societal expectations, like Mary, sitting at the Teacher’s feet, learning spiritual truths with the other male disciples of her day. Following Christ starts with a decision, as we sing in that familiar song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” no turning back, no turning back. That one decision will lead to many more as we seek to grow the Church and please the Lord.

Friends, we live in anxious times. The story of Mary and Martha shows us the truth about ourselves—how we always want a quick fix and others to change and be what we want them to be. But this isn’t the way of Christ, who revealed God’s love in humility, giving his life for the world. Our Redeemer shows us the way to peace is through a loving relationship with Him who suffers with us, and our own heart’s change toward other people, and not with the Lord making all our trials and difficulties disappear.

We sing,

The world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me –
no turning back, no turning back.

Are you willing to trust the Lord in your distress? Jesus cared for Martha and Mary. The Lord cares for you and me!

Will you accept the comfort of God’s love, the one thing that can never be taken away?

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your example of welcome and service in Martha and hunger for spiritual teaching and to know you more in Mary. Thank you for your love and grace for us who struggle sometimes with anxiety, when we know the way of peace is through intimate relationship with Your Son and a change of our own hearts toward others. In our world of chaos, help us to be still, and find time to sit at the feet of your Son, defying society’s expectations, and our own expectations of busy-ness, for the sake of busy-ness. Let us feel your peaceful presence with us and hear you speaking our names to comfort us in our distress, as your Son did with Martha in the village of Bethany that long ago day. In His name we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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