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.” –Luke 10:38-42
The very busy Martha complained to Jesus about her sister Mary who just sat there and did not help with any of the work. But Jesus told her she was worried and upset about too many things, and that only one thing was needed, saying, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Mary was listening to Jesus, says verse 39. That’s what we should be doing when you have the chance. We should not, like Martha, allow anything to distract us from that all important, one thing needful. Yes, of course, the work has to get done. But when we have the chance to hear the Word of the Lord, we should not ignore it. That’s the meaning that is usually seen in these verses, and that I believe is a true and accurate application of the story.
But let’s take a different approach, and see if there is something more in the text. Let’s put ourselves into the story and imagine ourselves in the position of Mary and Martha. What would you do? How would you act, if you knew Jesus was coming to visit you at your house this evening? You would, of course, want to do everything just right. But what would be ‘just right’ for Jesus?
To begin with, you would probably want to use your very best dishes and silverware. After all, if you would not use all those nice things for the Son of God, when would you use it? Jesus would be the most honored guest one could ever have. Certainly you would want to use all the very best. Or would you? Jesus wasn’t the type to be impressed with fine things. In fact, he often was very critical of any show of wealth. Didn’t he tell one wealthy young man to ‘SELL’ all he had and give it to the poor, and then come and follow him? Doesn’t the Bible say that if you have two shirts, give one to the man who has no shirt at all? Maybe paper plates and plastic spoons and forks would be more Jesus’ style. It would look more ‘humble,’ and humility might be what is called for in this situation.
But then again, would paper plates show proper honor to Jesus? After all, there was that story of the guilt-ridden prostitute who came and anointed Jesus’ feet with a very expensive perfume. Judas objected, saying, “Just think of how many poor people could have been fed with the money used to buy that perfume.” But Jesus defended the woman’s extravagant and expensive act of honor, saying that often quoted line about how the poor will always be with you, but the time for honoring him was short, because he had only a little while left on this earth. So what would you serve Jesus, prime rib, or, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; and then empty the cupboards and take everything else to the local food shelf? After all, doesn’t the Bible say if you have any extra food you should share it? What does that say to a people with cupboards, freezers, and refrigerators chocked full? What would be the right thing to do if Jesus came to visit at your house? Certainly you would want to please your guest. But would Jesus be pleased with showing him honor, or with a show of humility?
Maybe you could ask Jesus about these things when he is there. After all, don’t those verses about giving away your shirts and your food just mean ‘be willing’ to give up all that if necessary? That doesn’t mean you have to have empty closets and cupboards, does it? After all, doesn’t the Bible say you should be like the ant who works hard and stores up food for times of need? Weren’t the wise maidens in the parable praised for having purchased enough oil ahead of time, for being prepared by having extra on hand? Maybe you could ask Jesus about all that. Maybe. But then again, you might not. Jesus had a way of making his questioners very uncomfortable. He was always challenging them, always seeing their hypocrisy, always forcing them out of the own selfish concerns. You might want to be careful about what you say.
That brings up another question. What would you talk about with Jesus? It is all enough to make one very nervous about such a visit. And if the very thought of it isn’t already making you uncomfortable, consider this. Not only would you have to be concerned about serving the right food in the right way, and not only do you having to be concerned about what to talk about, you have to be worried about what you think about. Remember, Jesus could read minds. He knew all the thoughts of all those around him. How would you like to have a conversation with someone who knows at every moment exactly what you are thinking? There are old hymns about how nice it would be to walk and talk with Jesus, but I think walking and talking with Jesus might make me very uncomfortable.
Having Jesus over for a meal would be a challenge. I’m not sure I’d know what to do. Actually, I’d probably just do what I always do whenever we have anyone over to our house; and that is, to let my wife take care of everything. (continued…)
Luke 19:5 — When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Luke 5:22 — Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?”
Matthew 22:46 — No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask (Jesus) any more questions.
“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
—Simon Peter to Jesus, Luke 5:8
Jesus to Simon Peter (v. 10): “Fear not…”