• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Oct. 13 focuses on Luke 10:38-42.
What would you do if Jesus walked in your front door?
For Martha, the choice was obvious. Hospitality was important in Jewish culture and tightly bound up with cultural messages of shame and honor. When a respected member of the village welcomed a stranger into his or her home, it signaled to the rest of the village this person was trustworthy. It opened the door to relationships in the community.
Welcoming Jesus appropriately let the rest of the village know he was held in high esteem by Martha’s household. In addition to the cultural expectations, hosting Jesus was no small task. Jesus primarily traveled with his 12 disciples but also often was accompanied by a larger group of followers.
Martha in the kitchen
Martha may have found herself hosting quite a crowd. Feeding a group of hungry men takes work—especially for a first-century woman without the modern conveniences of a microwave, deep freeze or warehouse club. Martha did what any good housekeeper would have done—she hit the kitchen.
All cultural and societal expectations said Martha’s sister, Mary, should have been right behind her. Instead, Mary made a different choice. While Martha anxiously prepared food and served drinks, Mary took her place at Jesus’ feet.
It was a surprising action. Jewish mothers taught their daughters how to run a household, but women did not receive any formal education and were not formally trained in Jewish law. Sitting at a rabbi’s feet signaled you were his disciple. It was not a place for a woman. Yet Mary chose to assume the position of a disciple—and Jesus welcomed her.
Mary at Jesus’ feet
They were two different women with two different ways of welcoming Jesus. It set the stage for conflict. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (v. 40).
It’s easy to picture the scene: Martha is in the kitchen, mixing and chopping. She wipes sweat off her forehead and peeks out the door. Where’s Mary? Still sitting there with the men listening to Jesus. The pots start to simmer and Martha does too.
Doesn’t Mary see how much work there is to do? Finally Martha has had enough. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (v. 40).
Martha’s service wasn’t wrong, but her speech reveals something about her priorities. Martha uses the words “me,” “myself” and “my” four times in her two-sentence speech. Martha’ hands were busy serving Jesus, but her heart was focused on herself.
Jesus’ words highlight her misplaced priorities: “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 from her” (vv. 41-42).
Jesus’ speech is ambiguous. Was Martha worried and anxious over preparing a photo-shoot-worthy spread? Or was she upset over Mary’s audacious actions in rejecting household obligations for a space among the men at Jesus’ feet?
Perhaps she was simply angry her sister had left her all the work.Either way, Martha let her anxiety distract her from what was most important: Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us—had come into her home. Martha let her anxiety and activity distract her from celebrating the presence of the Lord. Jesus didn’t want a whirlwind of activity; he wanted Mary and Martha to create an atmosphere that celebrated true discipleship (Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Creating an atmosphere where it was possible for people to hear the word of the Lord was what it meant to welcome Jesus.
What does it look like for us to welcome Jesus? As a woman, Mary was on the fringes of society, but Jesus welcomed her as a disciple. It was what Jesus always did. Although some of the rich and powerful became his followers, the lepers, tax collectors and sinners flocked to him.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). When we welcome those on the edges of society, we welcome Jesus.
Yet welcoming Jesus also may call for a realignment of our own actions and priorities. Our culture rewards industry and activity. While we complain about our packed schedules, we often pride ourselves on being busy. Being busy signals I am needed and important, and I let my activity level define my worth.
Like Martha, sometimes we transform those attitudes to our spiritual life. We serve him with our calendars and bank accounts, but our hearts are focused on ourselves. We can be so busy doing things for God that we don’t stop to hear his voice.
Welcoming Jesus means creating space so we and those around us can hear his voice. Sometimes that means saying no to something good so we can say yes to what is best. It may look like white space on our calendars or the off button on our cell phones. It may look like being silent before God instead of turning prayer into a laundry list of wishes and complaints.
Discipleship begins with listening (Luke 6:47; 8:11; 11:28). Have you sat at the feet of Jesus today?