Jesus and Two Sisters
- Sense that listening to Jesus is an important and exciting part of belonging to him.
- Compare Mary's and Martha's feelings about what they were doing.
- Tell why Jesus was pleased with Mary's choice.
The gospels give us some fascinating glimpses into this family who were so close to Jesus---Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus. Jesus visited their house often and seemed to feel especially comfortable with them.
Martha seems to be the mistress of the house. Whether she was a widow who inherited her wealthy husband's property or, as the eldest, ran the family home, we aren't told. Mary is clearly the younger sister who follows Martha's direction and guidance.
Many of us can identify with this familiar domestic situation. Martha is busy preparing dinner for Jesus and his disciples. She wants to honor her guests by serving them a wonderful dinner. We can almost hear the clatter of dishes and the banging of pan covers. While all this is going on, Mary sits at Jesus' feet, listening to his conversation. Sitting at the feet of a rabbi was the traditional position for a disciple, and in Jesus' day women were simply not disciples. They were expected to serve, not to learn.
Finally Martha had had enough. She doesn't just whisper to Mary, "Please give me a hand." Instead she goes to Jesus and makes the matter very public.
Obviously Martha felt that Mary was doing something inappropriate and that Jesus should not encourage her. So in a sense she was publicly rebuking Jesus. "Don't you care?" she asked him. There are very few cases recorded in the Bible where someone was bold enough and intimate enough with Jesus to feel free to scold him in front of everyone. No doubt you could have cut the tension with a knife after Martha's question.
Jesus' reply is gentle and mild. Repeating her name, as he does, is a sign of affection. Yet he defends Mary. Martha, he says, you are letting many things upset you. The meal may be late or not as elaborate as you wish---but that's not important. Mary has chosen to listen to me and to learn from what I say, to sit at my feet and ponder my words. That's good, and you should not take that from her.
Jesus does not reprove Martha for serving. The problem is that she's trying to make Mary conform to her ideas of proper social behavior. In the same way that Jesus elevated little children from being nonentities to being central to God's kingdom, Jesus here elevates a woman to the place and status of a disciple.
Jesus is also commenting on the relative importance of Martha's busy mealtime activities and Mary's rapt attention. Martha is worried and upset about many things, he says, but only one thing is absolutely necessary. Mary's focused attention on Jesus' words is the one truly necessary activity, "and it will not be taken away from her." It has eternal significance.
Step 1 Breathe
Use this time to focus your attention on God.
Do this with me: calm your head, heart, and hands as you slowly breathe in . . . and out. (Demonstrate a few deep "in and out breaths" with eyes closed.)
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