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Jun 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 12, 2011

Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:41-42 (read verses 38-42)

INTRO: Last week, a lawyer challenged Jesus with a couple of tough questions

First, what should he do to inherit eternal life
– since he asked about doing, Jesus sent him back to the Law
– there it is made clear that doing works of love is the path to life
Then, secondly, the lawyer tried to hide behind the old game of “define your terms”–e.g., “Yes, but what do you mean by neighbor? That is a rather complicated subject, isn’t it?”
– Jesus responded by telling the story of Good Samaritan, and then sent him off to “do the same”

This is one of the classic episodes in the story of Jesus, but it leaves a question unanswered–in fact, unasked!
We have learned something about our neighbors and how to love them, but that was only one (smaller) part of the quotation from the Law
– the question that has not been asked or answered is, How do we love God?
– that brings us to this next story

The lawyer’s story ends with Jesus’ command, “Go and do”
– if we think that this is the answer and leave the story here, we could assume that doing is everything
– it is not! It was merely an answer to the question, “What shall I do?”

There was a another part to the lawyer’s question and it had to do with the idea of inherit (v. 25)
– an inheritance is not necessarily related to doing, but has more to do with being (e.g., being an heir)

“What did you have to do to become an heir?”
“Oh, that was the really clever part! I got my parents to give birth to me.”

Our western culture emphasizes doing over reflecting, enjoying, and being
– when this influence creeps into faith, it creates an imbalance in favor of activity, work, performance
– this story (and what follows in the beginning of chapter 11) helps to correct the imbalance

Verse 38, Off to a good start

Earlier in the chapter, when Jesus sent out the disciples, he talked about entering homes and villages and either being received or not received in them
– Jesus looks for the kind of welcome he received from Martha
– but, as we will see, he was also looking for a heart that would welcome his word

Verse 39, Mary is a picture of how a person loves God

This isn’t clear at first, but soon it will be

Study this picture
– Mary is “seated”; a position or state of rest, a move away from activity

There are times when Barbara needs my undivided attention
– to really listen to her, I will disengage from any other activity–reading, watching TV, working at the computer, etc.–and make eye contact
To be seated indicates Mary’s intent to focus her complete attention on Jesus

I find that my soul thrives on the stillness of the morning–before the sounds of cars and leaf-blowers break the silence

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
(Ps. 131:2)

Mary is listening to Jesus – to the person before whom she sits
– specifically, to his word (this reminds us of the “soils and seeds” parable in 8:4-15)
– this is how a person becomes an “heir” of eternal life, because Jesus’ mother and brother are those who gather around him to “hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21; Mk. 3:34)

This is the welcome Jesus was looking for: Mary’s welcome of his word into her heart

Helmut Thielicke, “The meditation practiced in worship and triggered by it . . . takes us out of the stress and strain of daily life by way of reflection on what is essential, on the one thing that is fundamentally ‘needful’ in the midst of every necessity or distraction.”
– he goes on to say that meditation then brings us back from that place of worship into our everyday world, closing the gap between them

Verse 40, Martha illustrates how our minds are pulled away

“Distracted” translates a cool word from the Greek–the prefix means  “all over” or “around” and the root is “to drag”
– distraction is all the crazy stuff we drag around with us wherever we go

The word “preparations” does not do justice to the Greek and hides the significance of Martha’s activity
– it is the word for “service” or  “ministry,” and this is activity for which Luke has a great respect
But the point here is that even a good thing can become a hindrance if we let it be a substitute for a better thing
– over-involvement in Christian service can become a distraction from God
– it can become a way to avoid hearing what he has to say

Martha is pretty bold (or bossy), “Lord, do You not care?”
– listen closely and what you hear is a typical childish complaint, “It’s no fair!” (even though she made the choice to serve)
– of course she assumes Jesus does care, and immediately goes on to tell him what to do, “Then tell her to help me”
– people do not get very far with Jesus when they tell him to change someone else

Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (12:13-14)

Because of Martha’s distractions, Mary’s moment with Jesus is suddenly at risk

Verse 41, Jesus gives Martha a fresh perspective on herself

That Martha did “many things” was not the problem
– we can learn to do even our chores with attentiveness and prayer
In The Practice of the Presence of God we learn that Brother Lawrence “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.”
– he would even make picking up a blade of grass from floor an act of love done for God and him alone

Martha’s problem was not the “many things” but the “worry” and “bother”–she let them distract her from the One she was supposed to be serving
– as Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. observes:

Martha wants to be a disciple, but is obsessed with doing things for Jesus instead of letting Jesus do great things in and through her. Mary represents the person who has surrendered her life to Jesus. She sits at Jesus’ feet with nothing to show for herself–no great accomplishments or achievements. She doesn’t even have any prepared appetizers to serve him. All she has is her receptive spirit.
Jesus knows well this type of person because his mother, Mary, had the same outlook. She is honored and is the model for all Christians not because of what she did, but because of what she allowed God to do through her. She did not say, “I will do it,” but rather, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)
. . . In the Martha-state, I work for God, but it is still my work that is at the center of my life.

Sitting and listening does not undermine service
– rather, it orients our service to the correct center
To serve worried and bothered indicates that we are oriented to the wrong center
– we’re moving into service from the wrong starting point
– we’ve let ourselves get caught up with the wrong issues

Everyone has problems with distractions in prayer
– in fact, Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet could have been just as worried and bothered by many things as was her sister
– if we take being with Jesus into doing, doing is enhanced, but if we take the anxieties of doing into being with Jesus, we will ruin our time with him

Verse 42, Jesus gives Martha a fresh perspective on her sister

“One thing is necessary” – this is our objective
– to free our minds from many things to focus on just one thing

A complaint that you will sometimes hear people (who do not understand it) make regarding contemplative prayer is that it involves emptying the mind
– that is eastern meditation, not biblical meditation
– contemplative prayer is emptying the mind of distractions in order to focus the mind and fill the mind with God
– it is making more room for God by clearing out worries and disturbing thoughts

“Mary has chosen the good part
– growing up, my brother and Jeff had a deal when it came to splitting the last piece of cake: one of us got to cut and the other got to choose
– so we developed the art of cutting so that one slice looked smaller but was actually larger
– and we learned the art of choosing according to actual volume versus perception
To set aside distractions to be with Jesus is a choice–and it is the “good” part

“which shall not be taken away from her”
– perhaps Jesus meant, “I will not take this moment from her and I will not allow you to rob her of it either”
On the other hand, whatever joy Martha derived from serving her guests was being taken away from her by worries, troubles, and her frustration with her sister

CONC: From the beginning of the story, Luke has skillfully developed the mystery of Jesus’ identity

It is obvious that he is more than what people had guessed (although they did correctly guess that he was extraordinary, Lk. 9:18-20)
– the transfiguration proved that he was more than a mere human
– recently we learned that who he is can only be known by the revelation of God (Lk. 10:22)

Now that we know this much about him, we discover that Jesus can be the focus of a person’s spiritual orientation, longing and devotion
– is it possible that the spontaneity and totality of love will come more easily to Mary than to Martha?
– a companion story in John’s gospel would indicate that this might be the case

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume . . . and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance. (Jn. 12:1-8)

Once again, Martha serves and Mary goes to Jesus’ feet
– she acts on the impulse of love and holds nothing back
– and once again Jesus defends her actions, “Let her alone . . .”

So what have we learned in answer to the question, How do we love God?
We have learned that we love God by choosing him, by setting aside other things to draw close to him
– and drawing close to him we are changed, and changed, we love him even more, and loving him more, we choose him

Kenneth Leech, “In the path of contemplative prayer there is both self-discovery and self-surrender.”
– that is what Mary experienced
– that is what Jesus was calling Martha into

There are other things that win our undivided attention–things we cannot get off our mind or that we cannot turn our thoughts away from
– let’s develop that skill at the feet of Jesus
The more we do, the more we’ll be transformed by the renewing of our mind

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