Scriptural Gem for July 2017

In Luke 10:38-42 we read: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “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 away from her.”

This passage of Scripture is well known by many of us and, commonly, the point to bear in mind is identified as something to do with time management or wisely setting priorities. However, when we look at the original language of the account, we find clues that indicate that God is offering us much more than a lesson in managing our everyday lives as He draws our attention to Martha. 

In verse 38 we read that Martha “opened her home” to Jesus, and in several translations, this is expressed that she “welcomed” Him. The normal Greek word for “welcome” is ‘dechomai’ and is found several times in Scripture. For example, in Luke 9:11 it says, “...the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” And Matthew 18:5 states, “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

However, in Luke 10:38 a different word, ‘hypodechomai’, is used to express how Martha invites Jesus. This means: ‘To invite someone to come under your roof to entertain them hospitably.’ In plain language Martha was enthusiastically saying, “Oh, I can't wait to host you in my home! I am so excited!” The use of this word sets the scene and will help us understand Martha's reactions later on, but let's get something out of the way first: many people will defend Martha and declare that serving was her gift or ‘love-language’ and that it is not wrong to want to serve with hospitality. Perhaps, but only if the gesture springs from a pure and loving motive. Let us consider Martha's reaction again. If she was truly motivated by the desire to serve in love, she would simply have been gracious and kind and she would have been more than happy to have Mary sit at Jesus' feet. Instead she reacts with frustration, a sense of being overcome by the sheer volume of everything she wants to do, and resentment toward Mary. So, let's go a bit deeper...

In verse 40, we get to understand that Martha had many preparations that had to be made. This is interesting and we need to consider who expected her to accomplish all these tasks. A meal can be as simple or elaborate as one wants it to be and this reveals something about Martha. The excitement of having Jesus in her home is more about the occasion than about Him. It seems that the honour of having the ‘Great Teacher’ in her home is more important to her than spending time with Him. Therefore, everything has to be ‘just so.’ But to make everything ‘just so’ is a Herculean task—ask any perfectionist! Martha was overcome by the weight of what she had planned and even wanted to enlist Mary to help execute it. The problem is that the entire scene is threatening to rotate around Martha and her plans! She would claim that she wanted to serve Jesus well, but it was all about making a good impression, all about recognition, all about self. Jesus, with His eyes that see into our very hearts and wisdom that exceeds understanding, gently rebukes her and reminds her of what is most precious.

There is a great lesson in this for us. Let us, whenever we lift our hands in service, remember that whatever we do, we must “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, NKJV) Fittingly, this verse follows a list of things that we must do “in sincerity of heart.” (v. 22) If our hearts are not sincerely interested in God’s glory rather than our own, we may declare and even believe that we are offering humble service, but pressure will always reveal the truth. Poor Martha! Her mind and body were much invested in earthly things, when she could have been working heartily for heavenly things. Dear Jesus! He called her back to Himself. Let us pray that God will test us, too, to reveal the state of our hearts toward Him. Only then, in whatever we do, whether busy or quiet, will we thankfully sit next to Mary at His feet. Amen.