Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
How is Jesus completing his work on earth? The church has answered this question: “We will send more people to seminary—so more churches can be established, so that more sermons can be peached, more bible studies can be held, more programs can be sponsored, more missionaries can be sent, more crusades can be sponsored and more books can be written.” My interpretation of this answer is, “We will add more gears to the existing machine and better lubricate the ones already whirling.” Let’s call this “Plan a.” But, let’s also explore an overlooked possibility for furthering the kingdom of God: “Now as they traveled along they entered a village (a network of people) and met someone who opened their home to them.”
I have often wondered how the early church grew so rapidly without a Bible, without any how-to-be-better books, and zero 501(c)(3)’s. They didn’t have an agreed upon mission statement. They didn’t have large buildings where they could assemble. They didn’t have the modern means of transportation and communication we consider essential to the completion of Christ’s work on earth. So, what was it the early church had that God used so dramatically in the beginning?
Let’s take inventory. In our passage, we only have Jesus, His friends and a home, complete with a gracious host. What Jesus found in that house is what He found in every house He entered—people separated from God by sin, busily trying to make life work. He found people comparing themselves to each other. He found people tormenting themselves and everyone around them with their protests against the perceived injustice of their circumstance. One way people try and make life work is by striving to arrange their circumstances (or society’s—if they are ambitious) to meet their own standards of fairness. We say, “A little fairness—that’s not too much to ask is it!”
But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.
Martha’s question is really a complaint and an indictment against Jesus. This is rich isn’t it? “Jesus, don’t You care?” I can imagine this scene. I see Jesus, fully understanding of the sin-born predicament of Martha’s heart, lovingly saying (with his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes), “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things.” Martha does not walk away in a huff. This penetrating observation stung, but at another level, Martha was drawing security from these hands, which were the most loving thing that had ever touched her, those eyes that said so much. She drew rest from this man who knew her heart’s disfigurement yet accepted her fully as his personal friend.
It may have also stung Martha that Jesus used her sister, who was the person she had (incorrectly) sighted as the source of her misery, as the reference point for her repentance. Jesus was saying, “Martha, your sister is not your problem, she is your example.”
Mary’s example is straightforward. She had disengaged herself from the busyness around her and fully devoted her attentions to Jesus. This is what Jesus wanted Martha (and us) to understand. Mary’s example may also contribute to our understanding of the early church’s successes. Jesus put it like this: “Martha, take a good long look at your sister. While you are thinking that Mary is not carrying her load, I am telling you that she has chosen the only necessary load. Mary has simply chosen Me. Mary is yoked with me.”
God has done much with “Plan a,” but let’s not overlook the plan our passage proposes which can involve you and me, right now. Let’s call this “Plan A”—we have the same things available to us—right now—that were in this story. Perhaps it is this scene and the millions like it, occurring wherever two or more had gathered in Jesus’ name, sharing their stories, which explains the explosive growth we see in the New Testament. I suspect this was the Original Plan A.
I think Martha left that encounter with Jesus as a woman with a transformed heart—one armed with a story about the loving correction, the goodness and the power of God. She, along with her friends, who had their own stories, engaged their friends and neighbors as “they were traveling along”—simply living out their lives in their natural contexts.
Father, raise up those who will sit at Your feet and listen. Confront us where we are busy and distracted. Set us free from our comparison-born bitternesses. Release us into this world with fresh stories of your intimate involvement in our hearts. Help us to courageously choose Jesus—our one essential thing. May we identify and nurture your life in us and in those nearest us. Amen.
Related Reading: An Army of Ordinary People is a book by Felicity Dale, giving modern day accounts of believers who are executing Plan A. Her book is an account of the fruit being produced within the organic networks of laypersons. She is documenting a metamorphosis: the caterpillar is being transformed into a butterfly; the Body of Christ is breaking out of her old wineskin of attending church into her new one of being the Church. It is a sight to behold!