It’s risky being entertained in someone else’s home when you need to talk. Unless you have considerable clarity, tact, and strength of character, the host will tend to limit or control the meeting. Did you come with important, perhaps delicate, things to discuss? How awkward will it be to say them while the hostess draws attention to her latest and greatest cheesecake? Isn’t it more polite to go with the flow? After all, it is their house.
Jesus faced a situation like that.
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)
Martha’s question, “Do you not care?” reveals her assumptions. Martha, like most of us, was thoroughly absorbed in her way of living—and hosting. It never occurred to her that her hospitality goals were anything but correct. For Jesus to just sit and chat seemed uncaring. Also, as the hostess she expected support from her sister, Mary. Based on that thinking, she tried to recruit Jesus to instruct Mary to help meet those goals. “He should take care of me, that’s part of His job.”
Most of us would gently nod towards Mary, “You know, perhaps you should go help. We’ll talk more later, if there’s time”.
Jesus does life differently. He acknowledged Martha’s many concerns but He pointed to Mary’s better choice—listening. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care; rather, Martha cared too much about her serving.
We have no idea what Jesus was saying to Mary. That’s not the point. We need to notice her surrender to His lordship. Mary seems quite familiar with Jesus’ feet (John 11:32). Later, she slopped so much expensive perfume on His head that it dribbled and dripped to His feet (Mark 14:3-8; John 12:3). To the frugal it seems wasteful. To frenetic Martha she seems passive, even lazy. Martha’s concept of serving missed something.
True service begins with listening to the one we are serving. (Do they even like cheesecake?) Only when we know a person’s wishes can we even begin to serve. And we mustn’t run off too quick, as soon as we hear the first part of the instruction. The objective may sound simple but the way it is done must reflect the character of the master too. Do we understand His timing? How should we respond to resistance? True service requires lots of careful listening. True servants return to the feet of the master all the time. True servants care more about knowing Him than about any task He might assign.
It’s risky, Jesus, when someone opens the door of their life to your knock. There are different kinds of host. Some want to impress you with their skillful service. Many hand you a “To Do” list. Only a few know you as the supreme interior designer who will rearrange things to the best effect. Everyone gets to choose what they allow you to do after they have opened the door. After all, it is their life.