Mary was Sitting
at the Feet of Jesus
Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethany, a village near Jerusalem, where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived. They were good friends of Jesus. Martha welcomed these preachers of the Word warmly 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 busy with food preparation as she desired to serve the needs of others.
Martha was distracted with much serving. And she approached Jesus with her complain, “Lord, do you not care that my sister Mary has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”(v.40)
How then did Jesus reply?
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.”(Vv.41-42)
So, Jesus corrected Martha for being too occupied with her table serving, for she was worried and upset about many things. He commended Mary for making the right choice to sit under His feet and to listen to His teaching.
There Must Be a Balance between Busy Serving and Listening to God’s Word
Though Martha had addressed Jesus as her Lord, somehow, she still murmured over His failure in meeting her needs. Instead of listening to Jesus, Martha commanded Jesus to do and say as she wished. She made “I” as her prime concern in her conversation with Jesus. She did not put her focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus reminded Martha that a prophet had come to her house with the Word of God. The primary focus of the host should then be entertaining and serving the prophet by listening to His words and not to be busy with her house chores.
Jesus said this to teach those who offer their hospitality to ministers of God, that the ultimate purpose of fellowship for believers should focus on God and His Word. God’s Word must be preached and heard. This is a good model of fellowship and ministry for the community of faith.
God desires us to receive Him by drawing near to Him and by listening to His Word attentively, just like how Mary did by sitting at the feet of Jesus. In the context of the Gospel of Luke, ‘sitting at one’s feet’ meant submitting to one’s authority. God wants to bless those who receive Him by sitting at His feet.
Jesus diverted their focus from serving, as a community lifestyle, to receiving the grace of God.
Martha liked to serve while Mary loved to listen and ponder upon the Word of God. Both of them were Jesus’ disciples, and they loved Jesus dearly. However, those who are occupied with ministering and serving must guard themselves well, so that they do not ignore the importance of feeding themselves with the Word of God or drawing near to Him.
Sometimes, a conspicuous ministry which draws attention as well as applauses from the crowd tends to draw us away from God too. We end up neglecting God and we refuse to think in line with His Word. In such situations, whatever we do become self-serving rather than serving God and His Word. Worse still, we overlook God’s sovereignty above all.
There are issues which can be settled later in the midst of our busy schedule. There is a time for ministry and there is a time for us to listen to the Word of God. We must balance our serving with listening, meditating and getting deeper into the Word of God.
We need to guard ourselves against the possibility of missing out the abundant grace that God has in store for us. It is because we usually sacrifice our personal times with God and forget to rely on Him fully when we are too occupied with our work.
Men and women in the business world enrol themselves in MBA courses so that they can advance their career. For us who serve God, there is a need for us to constantly quiet our hearts before God in order to listen, meditate and learn the Word to be equipped further in His truth.
We will experience burnt out situations quickly in our spiritual walk and come to our bottleneck if we focus merely on our ministries and lack in listening, learning and studying the Word of God. God is not pleased with such a serving model.
Why not Examine Own Self First?
The narrator projected Martha as someone who was over-concerned for others. She questioned Mary’s priority in life, and she expected Mary to flow in line with her ideal way of serving. She complaint to Jesus about Mary, and asked Him to uphold justice by commanding Mary to rise and give her a hand.
Nevertheless, Jesus pointed out Martha indeed was at fault. She was worried and upset about many things. Hence, she was unable to concentrate on listening to the Word of the Lord, and was distracted in her worship as well.
Jesus once shared a parable of seeds sowing. When seeds are sowed among thorns which stand for worries and anxieties of this life, the growth and fruits-bearing are halted (8:14). Jesus also warned His disciples to get rid of worrying about what to eat and what to wear on earth. All the worries of this life become a barrier to men when they want to focus on seeking God’s kingdom (12:22; 21:34).
Jesus knew Martha intended to do everything in order to serve Him, but she did not receive Him nor listen to Him wholeheartedly. God was not at the centre of her life.
In view of this, what made Martha different from Mary was not because she was busy with work while Mary was sitting there listening to Jesus. The distinction was about Martha’s distraction and Mary’s concentration.
Jesus said whoever obeyed His Word were truly His servants and whoever followed Him wholeheartedly would inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, Mary had the right attitude whereas Martha was to change her response to God.
We might be concerned about criticizing others without considering our own deeds. What have we done for God? Do we do the right thing? Why do we do it?
Martha was called to serve the table, yet she also spent most of her energy criticizing others. There are people who do so little in church but are enthusiastic in airing their opinions and being critical and judgmental towards those who serve. They do not realize that they are indeed wrong while others might be doing the right things.
A community will not be effective if too much time is spent by people scrutinizing and judging one another. Those who only bother to look outwardly but unwilling to look within themselves are inclined to see a world full with injustice and ugliness. They will automatically see themselves victimized.
They complaint, “Why should I keep my hands clean when everybody does evil?”
They raise more and more questions and they start rationalizing their faults. They end up deceiving themselves to be the righteous ones, so that their conscience will not be troubled.
We should be aggressive in our self-reflection and be willing to be responsible for our actions. We have to be strict in self-discipline while be lenient to others.
What are you complaining now?
Do you feel that you have lost your peace and your joy, and you are defiant and everything seems to be loathsome in your eyes?
What you need to do is to sit down and do a self-searching. You might have a wrong expectation of others or you might have an attitude problem of over-concerning about others’ businesses.
Let’s get our emotion right and do our part faithfully. Do not be a busy body. Let’s not bother too much whether others are doing the right things. By so doing, you will be a happier man or woman on earth!
Do Silly Things for Jesus
In the ancient society where Jesus lived, people expected women to play the role and responsibility of serving their guests and making them feel at home. Martha’s complaint seemed to be reasonable under the expectation of such a culture.
What Mary did, signified a breakthrough in their tradition – to sit down and to listen to Jesus. Jewish women had no right to access to proper education.
Yet, Mary loved the Lord and she hungered for Him. She set her heart to want to hear the Word of the prophet as a way of receiving Him personally. She owned no significant ministry, yet she was blessed to take her bold step to break free from the bondage of Jewish tradition, and became then a silent witness for Christ.
Martha was trapped in the bondage of tradition where people thought that women were supposed to occupy themselves in serving others.
Jesus did not completely deny her worries and upset, but He considered Mary’s desire for His Word and the fact that she did listen to Him attentively, to be something better (v. 42). It was something that could not be taken away by their social value and expectation.
Indirectly, Jesus set women free from their role which was defined and confined by their culture. He enabled the role and position of the women to be enhanced. The power of the Gospel breaks every boundary! Those who hunger for God and those who love God must break free from fear of being demeaned and doubted in order to accomplish a new thing for the Lord. The Holy Spirit shall give us grace and strength as we move a step forward.
Do you experience any breakthrough in your journey of faith this day? Have you ever done something for Jesus out of expectation of others, something that is silly? What is the most important thing in your life you feel worthwhile to invest your time and money? May God, grant you wisdom to make a right choice.