Blessed Life

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus

Good, Better, and Best: A Meal with Martha, Mary, and Jesus
Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself ? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

————-

Usually when we hear about Mary and Martha, we hear human-centered moralisms that exhort us to be more like Mary, because it says Mary chose the wiser. But that misses the more transcendent point. Ultimately, this text isn’t really about Mary or Martha, but is instead mostly about Jesus: The most overlooked aspect of this text is the astonishing fact that God himself is WITH them there in their home. The creator and sustainer of the entire universe (Col 1:15-20) is sitting in their humble Bethany home WITH Mary and Martha; and enjoying their company no less. Astounding!

In this devotional, we will take a look at these three main characters: The good (Martha), the better (Mary), and the best (Jesus).

1. The GOOD: Martha

Martha typically gets a bad rap in this story as an overly-anxious worker bee, but Jesus doesn’t admonish her for her service. He’s not angry or critical at all; in fact, his tone is quite empathetic and his emphasis focuses on the internal anyway.

"Martha"; Velazquez

“Martha”; Velazquez

So to roll up our sleeves, put on an apron, unlock a homeless shelter or soup kitchen door, or grab a Bible and to get to work for Christ is not a bad thing at all. Of course not. On the contrary, each of us is an integral part of the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor 12), and we are each given spiritual gifts at the point of our regeneration (Eph 2:10) for the building up of and service to the community, in Christ’s name. It’s our calling as Christians.

It’s not that Martha chose a bad thing, it’s that she just didn’t choose the better thing; the better option available at the time. Instead she became annoyed and resentful about her sister Mary who was sitting at the feet of Jesus.

2. The BETTER: Mary

Mary adored Jesus from the depths of her soul. She had much to be thankful for because she had much which was forgiven.

Case in point: Let’s rewind a few chapters in the gospel of Luke. Back in chapter 7, there is a different account about another meal where once again Martha was serving (especially noted in John 12:2) and Mary* was at Jesus’ feet. And in this earlier text, Mary the ex-prostitute (“woman who lived a sinful life” 7:37), is seen pouring out her alabaster jar of expensive perfume, mixing it with the sobbing tears of repentant joy, and figuratively anointing Jesus for (future) burial. That she would even be allowed to worship Jesus in that extravagant way, in the presence of men, in the home of a Pharisee (one who made decisions based on clean and unclean; staying AWAY from religiously unclean people), and using the tainted perfume a prostitute uses to mask the odors of her male customers is nothing short of amazing; an unabashed exhibit of new life.

"Christ With Martha and Mary"; Vermeer 1654-55

“Christ With Martha and Mary”; Vermeer 1654-55

And now to return to our meal in Bethany (ch.10), the biographer Dr. Luke describes that Mary was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (vs.39 logos = λόγος). Let’s stop for a moment and make it clear that Mary isn’t merely sitting and looking up at Jesus’ face all doe-eyed while he smiled on. No! Jesus was talking, it says. As per usual, he was always teaching about himself; the Kingdom of God, and here was Mary listening, learning, and worshiping.

There are some who would say that “being” with Jesus means just to sit blankly and meditate quietly and while there is certainly the place for that type of contemplative prayer, this is NOT what’s going on here in our story. Instead, Mary is listening intently to Jesus’ Words.

We who also follow Christ would do well, when we sit prayerfully with Him (either in group or individual worship settings), to have the focal point also be his words; the Word of God: The scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments which all testify to Jesus; from beginning to end: To talk less and listen more.**

Any more about this story, we just don’t know. We aren’t privy to the behind the scenes about whether Mary ever helped serve or whether the sisters took turns serving and listening; the gospels don’t tell us. But what they do tell us is that God himself, Jesus Christ, was in their home, in their midst, enjoying their company. Wow!

3. The BEST: Jesus

The simplistic and moralistic message of “Mary chose better… go and do likewise” completely misses the opulent and vital theme of grace. This story, and all of the Bible, is really not about them, you, me, or us at all. It’s all about HIM.

The takeaway of this narrative is that we have a Lord who adores his people so much that he was willing to leave his comforts and throne (as well as his pre-existing intimacy with his Father) and let all those things go (for a time) in order to draw Mary, Martha, you, and me into that similar sweet place of intimacy with himself. That is a life-changing notion.

The most important lesson to learn from this narrative is that the God of the universe loved his people so deeply that at a historic place and time, he became a man and was (and is) content to sit in our midst and enjoy our company as we worship him with our repentance, thankfulness, and attentiveness.

Our Lord Jesus is worthy of all our sincere service and our worshipful adoration.

~Wade

———————–

From the gospel reading for July 29th, “The Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany”.

*Not all commentators agree that the “sinful woman” in chapter 7 is the Mary of Bethany of chapter 10. To me, there are enough clues across all the gospels to make that significant connection. The John 12 account that has Martha again serving is one piece of strong evidence. The Luke 8:1-2 passage following immediately on the heels of Lk 7 which starts off “after that” (though not necessarily immediate and chronological) and lists Mary continuing as traveling companion in Jesus’ entourage is another piece. Ultimately, I like to stay close to the text and let the text speak.  With this issue, I’m playing analytic detective a bit.

**Martha was the more vocal sister (seen also in the death of Lazarus narrative in John 11) and wanted Jesus to listen to HER words where Mary was the more quiet sister and listened to HIS words instead. Today, in our devotional lives, we often give God our complaints and requests far more than we let his Word (the scriptures of both the OT and NT) speak powerfully into our minds and hearts. There should be a balance.

***vs.40 “help me”, the Greek συναντιλαμβάνομαι is only used one other time in the NT. In Romans 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness ; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words ”. Interesting and spiritually uplifting to ponder the connection between Martha’s request for help and the Holy Spirit’s intercessory help in our time of weakness and need.

Advertisements
Categories: Bible, Blessed Life, Christian Service, Devotional, Mary & Martha, Repentance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus: Our True Rest

Jesus: Our True Rest
Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

——————–

Our exhausted and stressed-out society is overworked, sleep-deprived, and even our technology depletes us.  We are truly a culture that desperately needs rest and yet when we attempt to find that rest, it backfires.

In our passage Jesus speaks of a “yoke”, referring to the bar which fastens two oxen together tightly at the neck in order that they could work more effectively.  Weights are attached to that bar in order to maintain constant pressure. In speaking this way, Jesus guides his audience to conclude that there are two choices: The default yoke of idols (leading to exhaustion) and the yoke of Christ (the true sabbath rest).

1. The Yoke of Idols

The yoke that harnesses each and every one of us destructively to our idols is one that always crushes us over time; choking us with an ever-increasing pressure that won’t let up.  Lest we limit our thinking, consider some obvious modern examples of idols:

  • Physical appearance; endlessly shopping for new trends or fashions, but never satisfied.

  • Yoked Oxen

    Yoked Oxen

    Health and fitness; running and exercising our bodies down to a grinding bone-on-bone pain, but never content with what stares back in the mirror.

  • Career and recognition; perpetually climbing the stairs of ambition, only to find out that our loved ones and friends (even ourselves) were left in the dust.

  • Striving for success, reputation, intelligence, being liked, or being seen as cool or hip.

  • Personal freedom; but finding that more sex with more partners or manipulating more people to make more money merely brings emptiness.

  • And what about those things we perceive as GOOD things like family, friends, community, church?  The problem here is that any time we tether our identity, self-worth, and inner peace to something added onto Jesus Christ, we turn that “good” thing into an “ultimate” thing1 thereby converting it into an idol.

And ironically, the rest we seek cannot be found in church or religion either. Paradoxical as this initially sounds, it is true that people can get far more burned and washed out by church and religion than by all other realms of life. Think of our context here in Matthew 11.

Jesus came to a culture that was extremely religious and yet very far from God. The religious systems and structures, as exemplified and directed by the Pharisees (the religious leaders of that day), had been crushing the common people. So near the middle of this long multi-chapter section in the gospel of Matthew confronting those Pharisees, we find our strategically placed verses in 11:28-30 (about coming to Jesus for rest) immediately followed by chapter 12 regarding Sabbath rest. The context speaks of rest from religious striving.

The word “weary” in vs.28, translated from the Greek kopiao, speaks of being tired and exhausted from toil, burdens, and even grief; more than physical tiredness, it’s an emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  Also in vs.28 is the word “heavy-laden” phortizo. This word only appears twice in the New Testament; once here and then in Lk.11:46  where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for weighing down people with religious burdens. The context is important.

Even up til today, the rank and file in the pew have become guilted and shackled by man-made religious rules, traditions, and expectations.  The underlying (and lying) message is that if we somehow can get our act together better,  then we would please God; as if our righteousness was tied to our religious performance. But it’s not.

In fact, any time we say to ourselves, “If only I could ______, then I would be ok” (regardless what we fill in that blank), we have dangerously put onto ourselves the yoke of idolatry and will never be able to find the rest we so desperately need.  However, there’s good news.

2. The Yoke of Christ

Jesus offers a whole other way; the true rest that our human condition yearns for: Rest from striving, rest from trying to measure up, rest from trying to better ourselves for recognition or self-respect, rest from trying to improve in order to be okay with God, others, and ourselves. True rest.

In vs.28, Jesus invites us to “come”, the Greek deute, which has the meaning of “coming with and following”.  We see it in Mt 4:19 where Christ solicits the new disciples to “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men”.  Jesus is not referring to a one-time event but rather an active and continual relationship of following; that we would find our rest in Him.

Van Gogh, 1890 Rest, Work (After Millet)

Van Gogh, 1890
Rest, Work (After Millet)

This is a deep and refreshing spiritual rest.  It’s the same word used in Revelation 14:13 regarding the rest of the saints who have died after all their labors are complete.

Gospel writer Matthew immediately follows this discourse about Jesus’ rest with chapter 12 about the Sabbath.  The connection is that Jesus is saying that it is HE himself, not a day of the week or activity in an assembly, who is the Sabbath rest for the people of God.

In this way, we have yet another example of Jesus Christ being the absolute fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures: In this example, he is the embodiment of the Old Testament Sabbath.

But we must come to him in weakness, humility, and dependence, like little children (vs.25) with hands and hearts opened wide to receive; for children are helpless and needy. For when we come to Jesus in this way, he figuratively removes the default yoke of our idolatry that weighs down and crushes, and places onto our necks His yoke which is “easy” (vs.30; the Greek chrestos which interestingly sounds very similar to Christos, which translates as Christ!).

The yoke Jesus gives his followers is not something that is separate from him (that he places on our necks and then walks away), but rather the yoke IS Jesus.  He is the easy yoke that binds us together with him, and in whom we can truly find the eternal rest for our hearts and souls, both now and forevermore.

#Wade

——————–

NOTES: The gospel reading for July 19, Feast of Macrina, Monastic and Teacher 379

1. Ultimate things is a phrase I’m borrowing from Dr. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan NYC.

Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Sabbath Rest, Spiritual Rest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving Beyond Mockery

Moving Beyond Mockery
Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

———————–

Our American society revels in its ability to poke fun at itself and others.  We have a reputation as a sarcastic, condescending, and sneering culture.  From Stephen Colbert to Rush Limbaugh to South Park (with multiple sitcoms, celebrities, pundits, and bloggers wedged in between), we are a society that laughingly embraces mockery as if it was art.  But it’s not; far from it.

mockers

Mockers Mocking

Following in the genre of Wisdom Literature, Psalm 1 (the “Introduction” to the entire psalter) lays out two opposing choices: Sinfulness versus righteousness.  This contrasting between two options occurs often in the the Old Testament and is seen also in the New Testament.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has a very strong Wisdom tone and structure to it as well, as it also begins the same way with “Blessed are…

Though the Bible often lays out these opposites of sinful -vs- righteous within its stories and lessons, scripture is not naive about the fuller complexity of human nature.  Look carefully at the venerated “heroes of the faith” (Heb.11) and you’ll find complicated humans who exemplify a messy mix of both good and bad;  Abraham with his lying, Moses with his murder, and David with his adultery prove that obvious point.

But even so, the Bible still sets forth the plumbline of righteousness to guide us.  Cue Psalm 1.

In Psalm 1:1, there is a fascinating ramp-up of evil:  It’s a threefold layer of sin beginning with a lingering “walk”, followed by stopping for a curious “stand”, and ending with a comfortable “sit”.  In that order God warns his people. And then in the verses that follow (vs.2-6), he lays out the good news within the construct of His righteous alternative.

1. PROBLEM: The Man-Centered Life.

Without God’s active intervention, each of us will gravitate towards living a life apart from God, centered on self.  We see this negative progression playing out in verse 1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers”.  Notice the use of action verbs in this threefold evolution.

First, walking in the “counsel” (the Hebrew ‘etsah also translates as “advice”) of the wicked; actively listening to, and living according to, the guidance or opinion of those with man-centered philosophies that steer us away from the full life Christ offers. The psalmist continues.

Second, standing (the word ‘amad can have a militant tone; “remain, take a stand”) in the way of sinners.  This is the same word used of Ruth who stood firm in fields all day long gleaning grain (Rt 2:7).  Within this paradigm, the standing progresses beyond mere listening into joining in the chorus of evil; swaying others away from the pure path of God by our own example.  Again, the psalmist continues.

Third, sitting (yashab is also used of stubborn Jonah sitting in the shade; Jon. 4:5) in the seat of mockers.  The word for “seat”, mowshab, translates “dwelling place” and is also used in Ezekiel 34 to signify the location where the true good shepherd will bring his sheep (vs.13).  The word is used to describe a place of resting and remaining; a parking spot for the soul.

Mockery of Christ Duccio 1311

Mockery of Christ –Duccio 1311

To dig even deeper, we discover that this Hebrew word for mockers (also scoffers), lê·ṣîm, only appears in the Bible one time (here in Psalm 1), but that a variety of forms of the word appear elsewhere, rounding out our understanding:  In Job 16:20, Job’s friends are called scoffers and in one of the Proverbs (1:22), Wisdom personified cries out in the street, “How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”.  Even more incriminating is elsewhere in Proverbs (14:9) where it translates,  “fools mock at the guilt offering” (NRS & ESV) or “fools mock at making amends for sin” (NIV).

The progression of sin is easy to see.  It begins with being open to, listening to, and letting bad advice (contrary to God’s Word and ways) shape our thinking.  Then it transitions into more of an active participation.  And lastly, it settles comfortably into the place of mocking at righteousness; even mocking at the need for God and the guilt offering that Christ provides on the cross.

2. SOLUTION: The God-Centered Life.

There are many etymological tidbits related to the word roots and usages in this Psalm, but let’s not lose the forest for all those trees.  The solution to the problem of verse 1 is found in the verses immediately afterwards and it’s all about prayerfully and humbly letting the Word of Christ (the scriptures) transform us from the inside out, by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Notice the significance that the three-fold problem of verse 1 are all action verbs, yet the righteous alternative that follows are all cognitive or being verbs.  This because the solution is not something we do, but something that’s done to us, that we allow to refocus our lives. Not a passive “being”, but an active “being”.

First, one who becomes blessed is one who delights in the law of the LORD (vs.2).  Here “law” (elsewhere, “law and prophets”) is a synecdoche, a part standing in for the entire whole, and signifies the entire scriptures.  The psalmist here isn’t suggesting a delight or pleasure in the Ten Commandments, per se (though that is part of it), but in the full revelation of God across the entire Old Testament.  Also, the strong case can be made to include that which was to be encapsulated in future writings (the coming prophets along with the gospels and epistles, the New Testament).

Second, he/she is also described as one who meditates on the scriptures day and night (vs.2).  The Hebrew hagah, translates as “moan, meditate, speak, and imagine”. This isn’t describing brief and shallow morning devotions, but a deep and ongoing relationship with the Word of God.  There is a purposeful, vocal, and creative element here; engaging the many senses and the fullness of thought. Much like in Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success”. A continuous cognition of and transformation by His Word.

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Third, he/she is compared to a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (vs.3). The word “planted” (shathal) means to be deliberately transplanted.  That the tree is there by the water is not by accident.  See also Psalm 92:13, “planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God”.  When we are delighting and meditating on the Word, we are like trees that drink in deeply of the streams (notice the plural) of living water, referring forward to Christ himself (John 7:38, Rev 7:17).  In and through us He yields His good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) to bless all of his creation.

That the leaf doesn’t wither (vs.3) speaks to the constancy, consistency, and reliable growth of a garden.  If the proper nutrients are present (sun, rain, soil), the plant will organically grow and bear fruit.  And there’s an intimation of quietness and longevity as well: We don’t hear or see a tree grow when we are watching it; but rather we see the growth in retrospect over the passing of time. This because the LORD himself (vs.6) is the master gardener who directs the spiritual health and growth of all his plantings.

In case we miss the obvious, the psalmist is ultimately pointing forward to Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus is both the complete fulfillment of the “law” of God and He is the living stream(s) of water which flow from God.

As followers of Christ, we too become truly blessed when we allow His Spirit to transform us beyond the progressing paradigm of the default man-centered life (manifested by mockery) and towards the refreshing and refreshed God-centered life which is only found in Jesus Christ.

#Wade

[the end]

NOTE: Lectionary Calendar for July 11:  “Benedict of Nursia” (Abbot of Monte Cassino c.540)

Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Living Water, Psalms, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.