“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:51). The journey to Jerusalem continues.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching.”
Jesus had sent 72 disciples ahead of him with His message of “peace be to this house. The kingdom of God is at hand,” instructing them that when they came to a house that welcomed them, they were to stay in that house. No doubt, they had reached this village and knocked on this door and where welcomed into this house. Returning to Jesus, they would have told Him, “when you enter this village, go to the house of a woman named Martha. She will welcome you.”
Surely, as Jesus entered Martha’s house, he would have pronounced His blessing, “peace be to this house. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The only conversation that Luke lets us listen in on is that between Martha and Jesus. “Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord do you NOT CARE that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.”
Martha goes from welcoming Jesus into her house and serving him to accusing Him of NOT CARING about her and giving Him an order to tell her sister to get busy and do her share.
Which of us can’t identify with Martha? Haven’t we all been there? How often has our loving and sincere work of serving others, even those in our own home, gotten infected with a spirit of ‘resentment that others aren’t doing their share,’ or ‘angry that no one appreciates all the work we’re doing’? And it doesn’t take much more than a few drops of this deadly poison to kill what was a “right spirit” in us and turn it into an “evil spirit.”
Jesus’ gentle response to Martha is the key point on this stop on our journey with Jesus that we need to hear, mark, learn and inwardly digest. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
Our Lord connects Martha’s anxious and troubled heart with the “one thing that is necessary.”
‘Necessities’ are those things that we cannot live without. There is a real difference between ‘necessity’ and ‘luxury.’ And to confuse these two leads to real problems. To spend a lot of money on a ‘luxury’ because you believe you can’t live without it, may mean that you can’t afford the 'necessities' like rent or adequate food and clothing for the family. That’s a real problem.
What isn’t a ‘necessity’ isn’t ‘needful.’ We can live without it. We’d all probably be very surprised and ashamed if we took an inventory of those things that are actually ‘necessary’ and those things that are not but that we treat as though they were ‘necessary.’
Keeping 'necessities' and 'non-necessities' in their proper place seems like it should be pretty obvious and easy to do. But for fallen and dis-ordered people, it gets very confusing. And without realizing it, we consider that which is 'not-necessary' to be 'absolutely necessary,' and that which is 'absolutely necessary' to be entirely optional.
A life that is DISORDERED in this way leads to the kind of “anxiety and troubled” heart that we see in Martha.
This past week I stumbled upon a review of a Stephen King novel called “Needful Things.” (Obviously the title is taken from this gospel text). “Needful Things” is set in a small town in Maine where the devil goes for an extended vacation. He takes the form of a kind, old gentleman from Europe who sets up a little shop on the main street. One by one, the residents wander into his shop only to discover that this shopkeeper is able to provide them with the object of their dreams and that becomes the one thing that they believe they can't live without.
One of the objects in this shop is a silver communion chalice that is purchased by the local priest. The priest is so dazzled by this chalice that he that he sits by the altar of the church gazing at it, day and night, while everyone else in the village falls deeper in to their own bondage and as almost everyone in the village is murdered by his neighbor.
How did we just sing it?
“All else, though it first give pleasure, is a yoke that presses hard!
Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving, no true, lasting happiness ever deriving.”
Stephen King portrays what it looks like when someone, even an entire village, strives to attain and hold onto what it falsely believes to be the ‘one thing that is necessary.’ Getting it wrong is disastrous and results in the kind of terrible ‘hospitality’ that we saw last week from the Priest and the Levite who passed by the half-dead man in the road, and that we see is on ‘shaky ground’ in Martha.
And King correctly portrays the devil himself as the one who is behind it all.
Martha, the gracious hostess who has opened her home to Jesus and has been serving He and His disciples, has now turned “anxious and troubled by many things…” She has become so angry with Mary for not doing her share of the work that she doesn’t use her name but only “my sister.” And she’s angry with Jesus for not caring about her.
Jesus tenderly, lovingly, addresses her by repeating her name twice, maybe to make up for Martha’s inability to speak her sister’s name once. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…”
The “peace” that Jesus announced to this house has been replaced by “anxiety and trouble.”
Jesus is clearly not scolding Mary for being gracious and showing such wonderful hospitality to He and His disciples who are also with him. What Martha must learn however is that her gift of hospitality is like a plant that grows in the soil and bears fruit. If you neglect the soil and fail to water and fertilize it, the plant will not only cease to bear fruit, it'll wither and die.
And so both Mary and Martha have got it right, but there is an order and a balance between the two. We need to be fed and nourished with God’s Word so that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit with generous and grateful hearts.
• Before we can love with a pure heart, it is NECESSARY that we be loved by the one who is Pure.
• Before we can serve with a ‘right spirit’, it is NECESSARY that we be served by the Holy Spirit.
• Before we show hospitality to others ‘graciously,’ it is NECESSARY to be the guest of the One who opens His house to us and SERVES us with His DIVINE GRACE.
Our Lord is the fountain and source of a ‘well-ordered’ life, who because He ‘cares’ for you, humbled Himself to serve you with a ‘pure’ and ‘willing’ heart – even while He was despised and rejected by man, and even while we continue to fail to appreciate all that He has done for us.
Luther once preached a sermon on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who are both in the Synagogue where the Pharisee prays with his head lifted high, telling God all that he has done, while the Tax Collector will not lift his head and can only beg for mercy. In his sermon, Luther has the tax collector pray, “Dear God, I have come here with an empty sack. And I need you to fill it.”
Our Synod President – Matthew Harrison runs with that thought, relating what happens when we come into the Lord's House and let Him serve us with His Divine Service.
The first words we speak are a frank admission that we have come here with an ‘empty sack.’ “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed…” “Dear God, I have come here with an ‘empty sack.’”
And in response, the pastor, in the stead and by the command of Christ, says, “I forgive you all of your sins.” And with that, the Lord drops a huge load of forgiveness and grace and mercy into our sack.
And then the lessons are read and a hymn is sung and then the gospel is preached and heaping measures of gospel and grace and divine love go into our sack.
And then comes the Lord’s Supper where our Lord SERVES US with His very body and blood. “Take and eat.” “Take and drink.” And with those words, our Lord drops His very body and blood into our sack, with all of the forgiveness and power and life that He gives us in this Meal.
And by the end of the service, our sack is full. And then we go out into the world. And throughout the week, we meet beaten, robbed, half-dead people along the road and what do we do? We take what we have been given out of our sack and freely 'serve' our neighbor with love and mercy and grace. “Freely you have received, freely give.”
And then someone offends you and sins against you. Someone speaks unkindly to you. And from your sack, you pull out some of the forgiveness that Jesus has put into it and you give it away. From your sack you pull out the grace and mercy that your Lord has put into it and you ‘put the best construction on it.” “Freely you have received, freely give.”
And so it goes through the week – drawing from what you have been freely given, freely giving it away, saying, “My Lord Jesus gave this to me for free, and now I’m giving it to you in His Name.”
And then comes Sunday, and we’re right back here at the Divine Service, confessing what is most certainly true, “Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack. And I need you to fill it.”
“One thing is necessary,” says our Lord. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” The “good portion” is that portion that our Lord SERVES to us as we sit as His feet and listen to His Word that is both the good soil and the good seed that produces the good fruit.
May we be as wise as Mary and so order our lives rightly, knowing the 'necessity' of sitting at Jesus' feet and receiving from Him “the good portion” SO THAT we may be as gracious as Martha and SERVE others with a 'true heart' and a 'right spirit.'