John 11:20(NIV) 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Work, work, work. That’s all I ever do. I work and slave to keep the house clean. I work my fingers to the very bones to put good meals on the table. I work to keep everything straightened up around here, and nobody notices!”
Does this sound familiar? Well, that was me for years. Now because of my spinal surgery, I am allowed to do nothing at all, so my wonderful husband has taken that role (poor guy).
But those words above are spoken ALL the time. If you are feeling down-trodden, over-worked, over-burdened, and unappreciated, I have some heartening news for you. You are not alone.
Luke 10:38-42: “Now it happened as they went that he entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’ And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Bible scholars tend to downplay Martha’s work and to elevate Mary’s spiritual focus. Can you just imagine sitting at the feet of Jesus and feasting on wonderful and fulfilling words of our Lord? We could understand our own spiritual awareness by learning from the Master.
But, today, let’s take up Martha’s case.
I often Think of Martha’s struggles like that in the comic strip called “Peanuts.” Charlie Brown is talking with Linus and he says, “You know, Linus, it goes all the way back to the beginning. The moment I set foot on the stage of life, they took one look at me and said, ‘Not right for the part.’”
How many of us, like Charlie Brown, stand looking into life’s mirror on a daily basis, and come up with the feeling “Not right for the part”?
For example, the role of being a parent to teenagers, or being a business mover or shaker, or a parent with multiple responsibilities, makes you feel “not right for the part.”
It’s also Charlie Brown who complains to Linus about his publisher, saying that the publisher sent him a rejection slip. Linus says, “That’s all right Charlie Brown. Lots of people get rejection slips.” Charlie Brown replied, “But I hadn’t even submitted a manuscript.”
Many theologians have said Martha represents experience or practice, the worker bee, while Mary stands for protection or conservation of that which already is, the student, learner of all things real.
Jesus tells another interesting parable about the businessman who goes away on a trip and leaves his three servants in charge. He gives them some money to care for when he’s gone and he says, “When I come back we’re going to have an accounting.” And when he returns many months later, he says to the first servant, “What have you done with the five talents I gave you?” He replied, “I went out and doubled them.” The man said, “Fantastic.”
Let me assure you that a talent was an enormous sum of money in those days. They say that a talent was equal to about 75 pounds of pure silver, an gigantic sum of money in those days.
He says to the servant who had the two talents, “What did you do with the two talents I gave you?” The servant replied, “I made 100% improvement.”
He said, “That’s fantastic.” He then looked at the third servant and asked, “What did you do with the one talent I gave you?” The servant said, “I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I buried it.”
What do you think the hearers of this parable would hear as far as Jesus’ words were concerned? Would you pick the servant who had the 100% increase? Or would you select the servant who doubled the talents? And who chose the one who wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he buried it?
Many respect the MBAs and the wizards of Wall Street who dabble in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and indirect things called securities. But back then, there were no savings or loans institutions. There were no banks. But there were crises and there were wars that could pop up at any time. So it’s possible that the people who were listening to this parable of Jesus were very influenced by that third servant. They might think the first two servants as being extremely reckless, especially doing this with someone else’s money. They might think that the third servant was more prudent than the other two. Puttering around with money (as if any of us could play around with money, not worrying about the outcome), even by today’s standards, can be a rather risky business.
Jesus may have been, possibly, referring to Israel’s religious heritage as well in this parable. Now this can take us in a whole new direction and ask: “What do you do with religion?” Do you preserve it, or do you practice it?
For years, the followers of the Torah had to protect their faith from attacks and invasions from all sides—first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks, in particular, were defilers of the temple in their attempt to Helenize (adopting Greek ideas, culture, and language) that part of the mid-east. It’s no wonder the Rabbis taught that to be religiously faithful, one had to defend the faith; one had to hold onto it and protect it, even by hiding it.
But that was then and this is now. Hiding the Christian faith is no longer the position of the churches that embrace the spirituality of our Lord’s message; it is to serve our members and non-members through evangelism and acts of compassion and benevolence – and to spread the Word.
As directed in Matthew 28: 18 – 29 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Religion seen in His eyes is to invest, to use, to practice, to share, to splurge, and even to risk. It’s definitely not something to sit on, bury, shelve, can, preserve, freeze, or even pass along to somebody else in the next generation. Jesus also said, “By their fruit ye shall know them” – BY what is produced—not by what is promised.
So the only question Jesus is going to ask us is “What have we done with what we have been given to invest and to share to make this world a little better place for humanity?” What are we doing with this? What are we going to do with this? Or what have we done with this?
There was a recent story in the newspaper that made me smile; you may have seen it, too. It said: He Finally Gets What He Gave Up. The sub-heading is: Teen Who Bought Van For Stranger Buys His Car With Help From Others. There is a picture of a 16 year-old boy standing next to his new Honda Accord.
In July, he attended an American Cancer Society auto auction. He had $1,500 in his pocket to get a used car. What he found was a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease weeping because she couldn’t afford the $3,700 price tag for the van she wanted and needed to get around. So the boy put down the $1,500, and his mother put down the difference. Then he bought the van and gave it to this woman.
The people who saw this were touched. They applauded; some cried.
After the story appeared in the newspaper, funds rolled in from everywhere, – enough to more than purchase a vehicle. Radio talk shows interviewed him, and more than 600 cards and letters came to him, and donations to the boy’s trust fund built up, all he said he was trying to do was to help someone, which is the basic ingredient of service—Martha’s work.
BOTH Martha and Mary had valuable spiritual work to do. Martha had a purpose, just as Mary had a purpose that evening.
This planet of ours is starved for kindness. This earth of ours is virtually crying out for compassion. Yes, I know that Martha represents that part of us that is so easily distracted and frustrated that it’s almost impossible for us to not complain about something for any length of time and physically work to make it good. I also know that Biblically speaking, Mary has chosen what one translation calls the “right portion.” But I don’t think that downplays Martha’s work at all.
She and Mary are sisters. What they represent must have equal importance because of this inter-relationship. Martha, then, gives her service externally, while Mary’s devotion is internal.
The point is that both are important ingredients that are absolutely necessary for our own spiritual growth and development. They are part and parcel of our spiritual make-up and composition in the soul. Doing spiritual work (that is, applying what we know spiritually and serving) is so much more important than just talking about it or discussing it.
We’ve always been confronted with that age-old question: Which is more important? Being or doing? You have to be a human being first before you can be a human doing. You have to know the Truth before you can apply it.
Jesus said this in so many words: It isn’t the Truth that sets us free; it is knowing the truth that sets us free.
I believe the essential “to do” ingredient, here, is what I call choice. My life, up to this very point, is based upon what I have said “Yes” to and what I have said “No” to. The definite maybes cannot be counted. They are disqualified. Choosing can be a rather tedious and sometimes difficult task.
Years ago, when Charlie Grimm was managing the Chicago Cubs (our world champs this year), he got a telephone call from one of his scouts in the field. The scout said, “Charlie, this is George down here in the minor leagues, and I’ve just seen the most stupendous thing.”
Charlie said, “Tell me about it.”
The scout said, “Well, I just saw a pitcher throw a perfect game. He retired 27 straight batters without even getting a base hit. It was wonderful! He struck out the side, except for the last batter who got two foul balls, and then he struck out as well. What do you want me to do?”
Charlie replied, “Go find the man who hit the two foul balls. We’re looking for hitters this year.”
The power of choice is the executive power of mind, the will in a human. How do we know whether we are on target with this? How do we know whether we’re being willing or willful?
There is another subtle, but highly important, point here in this situation with Martha. What the world needs more of now are shakers and movers – doers. That is one of the key reasons why I feel Martha has been short-changed.
Didn’t Jesus also say: “Those who are going to get into the kingdom of heaven are those who DO the will of My Father, and everyone who hears these sayings of mine and who does NOT DO them shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand,” which is the concluding parable in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 7). The Epistle of James adds: “But BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD and not hearers only, deceiving and your own selves.”
This, again, is conscious choice. No one can do this for us. Sooner or later, we have to do it ourselves for us and allow God’s loving actions work through us.
In another story, Martha also becomes the central figure. That story has to do with the raising of her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. She is the one Jesus encounters as He is coming into Bethany. It is she who is asked the provocative question by Jesus? “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life?” There is no doubt in her mind whatsoever and she says, “Yea, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world” [from the Gospel according to John].
It is she who leads the way to the tomb cave where Lazarus is buried. She just may have been instrumental in helping to roll away that guardian stone. The scripture only says they took away the stone, without identifying, specifically, who the “they” are. So not only does Martha express faith, but it is a working faith. Yes, I believe, and I’m going to help roll that stone away.
That’s what Steven Covey in “The Seven Habits of Effective People” says to begin with. Any overcoming, any personal or private triumph, begins with being proactive. Pro-activity is much more than just the taking on a plan. It is also the responsibility to do this as well.
We have come to a place, now, where our search for God must no longer be just for the rewards. It must no longer be for seeking other people to follow, but it must be living a full life ourselves, loving and doing and sharing.
So let’s get Martha and Mary together, in our prayer times. Let’s begin by praying and then with our feet start moving.
Love to serve and show it.
God bless you.