"You are Distracted by Much Serving"

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Have you ever had a huge quantity of people in your home? My house is somewhere people tend to congregate. My mom almost always has cookie dough in the refrigerator, and there aren’t many places to gather in my hometown, so my house is usually the place. 

When Luke says that Martha “welcomed Him into her home” it was a peak time in the ministry of Jesus. It is unlikely that Jesus was traveling alone here; He at least had his disciples with Him (which, at this point, is WAY more than 12 people) and it would not be uncommon for Him to draw a crowd wherever He went. 

Now consider the size of the average home in Bethany, where Mary and Martha lived (John 11:1). Most of them were one-room homes, cut into a rock formation or constructed by mud bricks and tamped-down dirt- certainly not big enough to hold this many people. 

When I read this story, sometimes my immediate reaction is to disregard Martha. I have even assumed that Jesus dismisses her as well. But for the first time when studying this, I tried to learn from Martha rather than Mary and noticed something in the wording of the text that changed my perspective on this story. 

In this culture, hospitality was vitally important; far more important to them than it would be to us. Martha’s honor is at stake here. Added to that, if a mass of people showed up at my house with no preparation, no time to clean, no time to get sufficient water from the well and I had no help from my sister, I would probably ask questions too. Oh, and one of my guests is the most culturally significant person that anyone had ever known. 

Okay, then what was wrong with Martha? Are we not supposed to serve Jesus and honor people? 

Certainly, we are- the Bible commands that we serve Him with our entire lives, and to lay our lives down for Him and on behalf of His people. 

The important thing to notice that the Holy Spirit illuminated is that He did not admonish her serving. He said she was “distracted” by it. He did not tell her that her actions were wrong, just that they were incorrectly motivated. 

The problem was that in all of her preparation for Jesus, she had neglected Jesus Himself. Her serving was no longer motivated by a desire to honor Him, but instead an anxiety about the opinions of others.

I see so much of this reflected in people who serve in ministry in some capacity, including myself. So much time is dedicated to preparation, facilitating start times and lights and sound and food and space- all good things- that we are in danger of missing the main event. Martha wasn’t wrong for serving, but Jesus also isn’t fooled by service where everything runs smoothly but the hearts of the worshippers are far from Him. He wasn’t impressed by Martha’s ability to clean her house. As Jesus put it, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary”. 

There is one thing that is vitally important, essential, non-negotiable: the adoration of Jesus. If our serving and preparing forsakes that, then everything else that we are accomplishing is absolutely void of meaning. Imagine if the shepherds arrived at the manger and started tidying up, or you entered the throne room of a King and ask if you could sweep the floors before you addressed Him?  

Look at Martha: after Lazarus died, Martha, not Mary, was the first to run to Him. She confesses belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and she peacefully returns to her home. She knew Him, and she trusted Him. 

And she didn’t stop serving. After Jesus resurrects Lazarus, He returns again to their home for dinner to be served again by Martha. Still at the table, following her gifts; yet redirected towards the worship of Jesus. 

Jesus is not impressed by our efficiency. He is worshipped in our adoration of Him. So go and serve, lay your life down; but remember it is our sitting at His feet, not our service, that He desires. May we choose the “good portion, that will never be taken away.”

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