In Luke 10 Jesus is continuing to teach about discipleship, about what it looks like to “love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…strength…and…mind.” In the previous section Jesus explained discipleship in terms of the need to show love to others, not to ask who your neighbour was but to be the neighbour where one was needed. Not because you can make yourself right with God that way, because he clearly showed that you can’t, but because it is how someone who knows God through Jesus should live in response to God sending his son. Now in these four verses Jesus is teaching about the need for the disciple to listen, the need for them to order their life rightly, to put first things first, to prioritise.
In the passage there is a simple compare and contrast between Mary and Martha, between their priorities, and what occupies their time.
In 1939 the New York Times wrote this “The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to a screen; the average American family hasn’t got time for it.” Yet here we are 70 years later and not only do we have time for it but the average Britain spends nearly 3 hours a day watching it, absorbing the information it bombards us with being influenced by the images it beams into our lives. It places pressure on us, it bombards us with demands, and it seeks to provide us with aspirations and soothes us into accepting its priorities. Since the advent of technology our lives have speeded up, rather than buying us time we seem to be under more pressure, with more to do, more demands to meet and just keeping on top of things is a challenge. It is partly why so many of us have a Martha complex.
Just look at the way Martha is described in this passage and at what she was doing. (40) “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Did you notice the word that Luke uses to describe Martha? She is “distracted”, she is pulled away from Jesus, her attention is on something else, and as the account continues we see that she is overburdened, overworked, and stressed out by all the preparations that need to be made.
She is so busy getting things ready that she has no time to spend with her guest, not that Luke includes this as an abject lesson to the disciples about social etiquette and how not to ignore your guest. But the importance here is that her guest is Jesus and she is too distracted to listen to him.
Just imagine for a minute that Bono popped round to talk to you about music, or Steven Gerrard about football, or Daniel Craig about acting. You wouldn’t leave them sat in the room whilst you just nipped on line to answer a few urgent emails. You would listen to them and learn from them.
Can you picture Martha in her distraction rushing about the kitchen, preparing the meat, peeling the potatoes and carrots, laying the table, chilling the wine, and polishing the glasses. Then you hear her sigh a few times, then a bit of chuntering as a pan lid clatters to the floor, then the lids being slammed into place with more force and then suddenly there she is at the doorway. She’s finally snapped “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Martha expects Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her sister, but how does Jesus respond to her plea? (41) “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better…” Do you see what Jesus is saying? Distraction is dangerous, Jesus isn’t saying that what Martha is doing in preparing the meal is wrong but that she is being distracted from what is best. What she ought to be doing is making time to listen to Jesus.
Maybe you find yourself, this morning, feeling that Jesus is a bit harsh on Martha. Perhaps if we are honest that is because we recognise and empathise with her, we have the Martha syndrome; full diaries, long to do lists, and we are always running out of time. It’s because our problem is Martha’s problem, we live like Martha.
What distracts us from taking time to listen to God? Martha leaves Jesus sitting in the front room while she rushes around in the kitchen, we have the Bible, the word of life, yet leave it while we rush around doing all manner of things neglecting what is best for what is good. What distracts you from listening? Maybe we have good intentions but when it comes to bed time we are just too exhausted to read and study the Bible and then we sleep in too late in the morning so there just isn’t time to do it before work. Maybe we tell ourselves that I’ll catch up at the weekend, but then the weekend comes and goes and it just gets missed. Do you relate to Martha this morning? Maybe even as we’ve been thinking about the passage you’ve been worrying about whether you’ve turned the oven on, or whether Al will be done by 11.30 so I can get home and make sure that the dinner isn’t burnt. Or maybe it’s the big project at work, or worries about the children or grandchildren that are distracting you this morning.
Do you see the question this morning; am I in danger of being distracted? Too distracted to listen to what Jesus says?
Luke highlights a deliberate contrast in (39-40) in the way he records this meal. Martha is “distracted by all the preparations” whilst Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
Martha is distracted, Mary is devoted. In sitting at Jesus feet Mary has taken up the traditional and culture place of a disciple, unusual for the culture of that day, it is the place of learning, of instruction. And far from being rebuked Jesus commends her.
Whilst he says Martha is “worried and upset about many things” Jesus says “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary has avoided the danger of distraction and is commended for showing the devotion of the disciple. (22) “No-one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no-one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Mary has chosen what is better; she has chosen to listen as the Father is revealed by the only one who can reveal him. To listen to the only one who can bring about a relationship between her and God.
Here is a jar. I’ve got a challenge for you, I want you to put these three bags of sand, rocks, and gravel into the jar. They will all fit but only just. How would you do it? If you put the sand or gravel in first you can’t do it, the stones will stick out of the top. You have to put the stones in first, then tip the gravel in, then the sand will fill in the gaps between the stones and gravel. Time is the same, you have to prioritise, put the big things, and the important things in first just like the stones in first, then take what space is left for other things.
In our society we measure the value we place on something, be it a hobby, a friendship, or a relationship by the time we give to it. What are our priorities? Mary is commended for getting her priorities right, putting as most important what was most important, listening to Jesus teach, building a relationship.
Am I suffering from the Martha complex? Am I dangerously distracted or am I devoted as a disciple to the word of life, determined to build a relationship with God through his word?
So Tuesday night rolls around and its home group but it’s a gripping episode of Eastenders, or Man united v AC Milan on the television? The question - Distraction or devotion? It’s Saturday morning and it’s your turn for a lie-in - 5 more minutes in bed or 5 minutes reading the Bible - distraction or devotion? You are asked to meet with someone to form a prayer triplet and read the Bible together, your diary is busy but what is the priority, what does it look like to be devoted?
Why do I need to take time to listen to God because it will equip me to live a life worthy of the gospel, because it will enable me to see all my time as given to glorify God, because it will teach me the path of the disciple, how to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
Listening to God is the disciple’s priority because it is about relationship; you cannot follow if you aren’t listening to the instructions. That’s where so many of us go wrong when doing DIY. It would be easy this morning to go away feeling guilty, but guilt will not help us change our priorities, grace will. Do you see the grace in this account? Look again at verse (40) Do you notice how Martha addresses Jesus, she calls him “Lord”, Martha is a distracted disciple and do you notice Jesus reaction to her? (41) “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed…” He doesn’t condemn her but he calls her to come and listen, to copy her sister, to choose what is best, to come and know the Son and through him know the Father.
What about you this morning? How are you priorities? Come and listen is the call, reorder your priorities. Do you see the danger; the danger is distraction not necessarily with bad things but with good things. But the call for the disciple is to devotion, is to following, to listening, to learning and living to love and glorify God.