Oh, Mary and Martha! You know I love you both. The following is from a sermon I gave at Christ Church, back in 2007. I probably posted this last year, but I don't care. I'm going to post it again.
First of all, let’s just get it out of our heads that the problem with Martha is that she’s working in the kitchen.
In fact, where does it say that she’s in the kitchen at all? Where does it say that she’s cooking? Where does it even say that Martha is going to offer Jesus a meal? All it says is that she welcomed Jesus into her home.
In fact, I think we need to rethink this scenario entirely. How many people, when we hear this story, picture Martha busy cooking something? How many people picture Martha cleaning? How many picture her in a different room in the house, getting things ready, and coming out to complain to Jesus about her sister? Because that’s what I’ve always imagined, but then I looked at this passage again. I looked and I looked and it doesn’t say she was in another part of the house. And all of a sudden I had to rethink this whole thing.
Here’s the text again: “Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha…” What is unwritten but implied is that Martha didn’t listen to what he was saying.
Luke uses a terrific word to talk about how Martha is missing out. He uses it twice. And that is the word “distracted.” She invites Jesus in and then she gets distracted and doesn’t even pay attention to him when he’s sitting right there. And then when she does pay attention to him, it’s to give him an order: “Tell her to help me.” It seems to me that Jesus spoke rather gently to Martha, given those circumstances. He could have said, “How dare you try to guilt-trip me, suggesting I don’t care?” He could have said, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” But he doesn’t. He recognizes what is going on: “You are worried and distracted by many things.”
And isn’t that the truth? This isn’t a story about how certain types of work are good and spiritual and certain types of work are just busy work. It’s a story about how often we invite Jesus in and then don’t want to pay attention when Jesus is there. Right at the very moment when we say, Jesus, come on over, we can get worried and distracted and end up not listening at all.
Of course, Martha has the advantage over us of actually having Jesus there in the flesh. It’s much easier to believe that Jesus would actually talk to us if we could see him in the flesh rather than the “image of the invisible God.” But if we did actually invite Jesus in to our homes, what would Jesus have to say to us? And if we did take the opportunity to invite Jesus into our homes, would we also take the opportunity to actually listen?
O God, heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.