Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 10:38-42a Martha, Martha

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 25, 2018

Mary and Martha

38 As they made their journey, Jesus entered a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to his word.

The village was Bethany on the hill east of Jerusalem, and the sisters had a brother named Lazarus (John 11:1). Although some people speculate that Martha was actually the widow or wife of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3), there is no reason to insist that Simon the Leper’s home in Bethany was the same house where Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus lived.

We meet Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. The Greek (aorist) verb “sat” states a fact and could even be taken as what a grammarian would call preliminary: “After she had seated herself…” The second verb (an imperfect) shows that she was listening and kept on listening to Jesus—this wasn’t just a moment’s occupation for her.

The purpose of Jesus’ visit was not to rest or relax. He was there to proclaim the gospel. Luke says that Mary was listening to his logos (λόγος), a familiar Greek term to many Christians, which means something spoken, something which is communicated. In the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus himself is described as the very Word of God (John 1:1), the word who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). God does not appear to people in the Bible without communicating to them. He speaks, and Jesus is the clearest communication from God to his people because Jesus remained in the world for many years, communicating and explaining God’s plan of salvation to his people. Mary of Bethany was one person who recognized this and who sat at his feet to listen.

40 But Martha was distracted with all her serving. She came over and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered her, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.

The writer to the Hebrews said, “Keep on loving each other like brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2). When Jesus came to Martha’s home, she focused all her attention on serving the Lord. What a privilege to be given this opportunity! If God himself were coming to your home, who wouldn’t make an effort to make sure everything was done well, clean, dusted, vacuumed; that the rolls weren’t burned, that the best wine was brought out, and so on?

Anticipating Martha’s own word, Luke uses the pregnant term diakonia (διακονία). This is a word often used for ministry or even the office of deacon (1 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 1:1). Martha was focusing on serving the Lord. Wasn’t this exactly what we just read about when a lawyer asked Jesus what he could do to get into heaven? The answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). And Jesus preached the Parable of the Good Samaritan to show what that kind of love toward one’s neighbor looks like, and who God means by “neighbor.” Martha looked like she was doing whatever she could to do all that; to show true neighborly love to Jesus.

So what was wrong? Jesus did not come to Martha’s house dying of thirst or hunger. He came to use words, to preach the gospel (verse 39). He came to proclaim law and gospel to people who needed to hear it. He came to refresh Christians with the word of God.

How shall we take Martha’s words and her attitude about her sister? Did she rudely or casually interrupt Jesus’ sermon, bursting into the room to scold her sister by means of a question to their guest? Martha knew who Jesus was. We can’t accept that she would have cut into Jesus’ preaching, nor can we forget that Martha prefaced “Don’t you care?” with “Lord.” It seems more likely that Jesus paused in his message to notice Martha’s agitation and to invite her to speak.

Martha was not faulting Jesus for occupying her sister’s attention. In fact, Martha shows a deep understanding of who Jesus is by wanting to serve him in whatever way was possible while he was under her roof. She knew that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). She knew the story of Abraham, who had a meal prepared when God came to his camp along with two angels before they went down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. What a privilege to have been Abraham’s wife, Sarah, to bake the very bread God would eat! To roast the very calf that would sustain these travelers (Genesis 18:7-9)!

What Martha didn’t understand was that Mary also believed all this, too, and Mary remembered that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).

There are quite a few old houses scattered around the United States, especially New England, bearing a plaque that says, “George Washington Slept Here.” Most of these date from his days as a surveyor in the 1750s or from the wars with France and (later) England. Tourists sometimes ask whether he said anything famous in that place but might be disappointed to have nothing more than a diary entry from the young Washington such as, “The blanket I used was threadbare, but the vermin, lice and fleas doubled its thickness.” There are no such signs in Capernaum or Bethany, but while the Lord was there, he gave the people such words, such clear preaching from the lips of God, that the Christian Church took root and grew and flourished so that it has come even into our heart, for the good of your soul. Keep listening.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

Browse Devotion Archive