Message from Our Pastor
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I wish I could forget it. Even more, I wish I could take it all back – undo it, have a second chance.
Have you had days like that? Days where you get it all wrong and everyone knows it? Days where you should have known better but didn’t?
Well, let me tell you about my very bad... no, good day, and just maybe you won’t make the same mistake I did.
It was a beautiful early summer day. It was a little warm but not too warm. The birds were singing. The air was perfumed with the scents of lavender and herbs. The children were running about while the women chatted around the town well. It was a perfect, gentle, quiet summer day.
That all changed when my little sister, Mary, came charging into town waving her hands above her head shouting my name. “Martha, Martha,” she yelled. “Come quick, the Master is coming for dinner.”
She was breathing so hard that none of us could understand a single word. When she finally calmed down I made her drink some water and start from the beginning.
She told us she had gone with our brother Lazarus to see Jesus and his disciples a couple of towns over. I scolded her for tagging along and not staying here with the women. She said she was sorry, but that I should be glad she went, because Lazarus had invited Jesus for dinner, and Lazarus had sent her home so we would have some time to prepare.
At first there was pure silence, and then I and all the other women jumped up at once and began screaming, “What! Jesus is coming? Here? Tonight? For dinner? With his disciples?” Mary just kept nodding her head. “Yes, Jesus is coming here, tonight, for dinner.”
I wanted to slap her and my brother Lazarus.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus. He is like a member of the family, and he is welcome here any time. But, 30 minutes isn’t enough time to prepare the house, a meal, dessert, and make myself presentable for Jesus, himself, let alone Jesus and his disciples – And who knows how many other guests he will bring?
When the news sank in, the women started shouting for their children, gathering up their water jugs and market baskets, and making a b-line for home. Jesus may be coming to our house, but the whole village felt a need to be prepared. Family or not, Jesus wasn’t just any ordinary guest; he was The Teacher, Master, Messiah. Of course, we didn’t know then that Jesus was the Messiah – If we had, then maybe things would have been different. Maybe then we would have all stopped running around like chickens with our heads cut off, and sat and listened. Maybe, but probably not – if we knew then what we know now, we probably would have run around even more, and even faster.
Well, I grabbed Mary by the wrist and ran all the way home with her in tow. When we got home I sent Mary to clean up the house and start the evening chores while I started dinner. Mary did as she was told. But the whole time she kept talking about some lawyer who asked Jesus a question about inheriting eternal life. And then how Jesus told one of his stories about a man being robbed and two people walking past but a third stopped to help. She was working, I was working, and I wasn’t really paying much attention, so I didn’t know what all she said. I should have stopped and listened – then I would have understood. But I was too busy – Jesus was coming for dinner, and everything had to be just right.
You’ve had guests like that haven’t you? Important guests, or in-laws, or your own mother, or your husband’s business partners. . . Guests where everything matters.
Or maybe it wasn’t a guest, maybe it was an opportunity. A job interview, a test you had to pass, a person you wanted to impress - Something where everything had to be just right – even perfect – because it mattered so much to you. Have you had such a guest or opportunity?
Well, I did that day, and I blew it – big time. Here is what happened. . . Mary and I were working to get everything ready. I was cooking. Mary was cleaning and setting the table and putting things in order. At least she was until Jesus walked in the door. From that moment on she was attached to him like mud on a brick. I had to keep giving her orders. She would half do them, all the time keeping her eyes glued to Jesus, and then be right back by his side. When I went in to get her to help me in the kitchen so the men could have some peace and privacy, she was actually sitting at his feet.
I was so furious that I didn’t think. I just started shouting. “Mary, what do you think you are doing sitting there? You know that you aren’t to be with the men. Besides, I need your help – NOW.”
Nothing. She didn’t even take her eyes off Jesus to look at me while I was talking to her. Everyone else did though. The whole room was staring at me – except for Mary and Jesus, of course. They looked irritated by my interruption.
Well, I was even more irritated. “Jesus!” I shouted, shaking my finger at him, “You are always talking about helping our neighbor and serving each other. “Didn’t Mary just tell me that you were teaching on this very thing this morning – loving your neighbor as yourself? Is this not what one needs to do to inherit eternal life? “Well, I’m her neighbor – in fact, I’m her sister – shouldn’t she be helping me? You are the only one she will listen to, Jesus. Tell her to stop acting like a child and start acting like the grown girl that she is. No husband will tolerate behavior like this. Tell her to come help me!”
I can’t believe I yelled at Jesus like that. Wagging my finger, ordering him around. I was the foolish child, not Mary. And Jesus set the record straight.
“Martha,” he said to me quietly but firmly, “Martha, you are worried, worked up, and distracted by many things.” I opened my mouth to protest, but his eyes darkened and his face hardened so I snapped my jaw shut.
“Martha, what else did Mary say was needed to inheriting eternal life, or was it just to love your neighbor as yourself?” I looked to Mary for help. She was now looking at me too – and waiting along with everyone else. They all seemed to know the answer, but I had no idea. I hadn’t really listened to Mary. I just caught bits and pieces. She and Lazarus are always telling me that I need to stop and listen to what they are saying because I never get it right.
I could have tried to blame Mary for not telling me the whole story, but Jesus knew Mary – and me – better than that. Mary hangs on his every word. She believed him to be the messiah and was always afraid she would miss something important. That’s why she was sitting at his feet and not helping me. I don’t know how she knew Jesus was the Messiah so early on, but she did. Maybe she heard him say it. If he said it, she heard it because she was always there listening.
Well, Jesus knew I didn’t know the answer. And he didn’t tell me the answer either – I had to ask Mary later. What he did tell me was that there was only one thing that was important and Mary had chosen it. Then he turned to Mary, winked, and went back to talking with the disciples.
I was dumbfounded. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at Jesus. I was so hurt and angry that I couldn’t move. I just stood and stared. And nobody, not even Jesus, gave me a second glance. It was like they were all members of a club and I didn’t know the password. It was like being with Jesus was so important that nothing else mattered – not even food.
They did finally eat. About sundown Jesus clapped his hands and stood up and everyone followed him to the table. As soon as Jesus was settled Mary came out to help me serve the meal. It was cold, but no one seemed to care. Mary and I didn’t say a word to each other. Her coming out to help me now that the meal was finished was like rubbing salt into the wound. I wanted to tell her to take a hike, but this time I kept my thoughts to myself.
After dinner Jesus and the disciples took a stroll around town while Mary and I did the dishes. I finally swallowed my pride and asked Mary to tell me what, besides loving your neighbor, was needed to inherit eternal life. I expected her to give me that “Oh, so now you want to listen” look, but she didn’t. She simply started at the beginning.
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him what was written in the law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
I was such a fool. I was so busy trying to do everything – trying to make everything just right and perfect that I forgot the first rule of hospitality AND the first law of my faith. The first rule of hospitality is to pay attention to and interact with your guest. The first law of faith is to love God above all else. That day the Son of God was my guest and ran I around as if cleanliness and a hot meal were more important than either reality.
I’d give anything to be able to do that day over again. Not just to erase my shameful behavior, but so I could get back those precious hours with Jesus.
Jesus was crucified a few months later. We were all devastated, but none as much as the two Marys – Mary, my sister, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. These days they are inseparable. Mary, my sister, who spent as much time with Jesus as her brother and I would allow and who absorbed every word he said spends her days recounting everything she can remember to Jesus’ mother.
Jesus was right that day – of course he was always right, but only now do I understand what he was trying to tell me when he said that Mary had chosen the right thing and that it would never be taken away from her. All that time that Mary spent with Jesus – it is in her heart, mind and soul to this very day. It comforts her and gives her strength and even makes her laugh. I, always the busy bee, don’t have many treasures of time spent with Jesus stored up here (point to head) or in here (point to heart). Oh, I loved him. I loved him as much as the rest, but I never stopped long enough to tell him. And even worse – I never found the time to sit at the feet of his love for me.
I learned my lesson that day Both parts of the law are important – loving God and loving neighbor. The hard part is knowing when to be still in the presence of God and when to go and do likewise. It is not a matter of choosing one over the other – both are equally important. I’m still a busy bee, but I spend a lot more time listening these days. I listen to Mary and to Lazarus as they retell their many stories about Jesus. I listen to the stories the women tell at the well. I listen to the children who always want to tell someone their stories of new discovery and life. And I listen to the silence when I’m all alone straining to hear that still small whisper that Elijah heard outside the cave. By all means, love your neighbor but don’t neglect your God. You may think that you will have time tomorrow or that it will be less busy next week, but you won’t, and it never is. God has granted you this day, and this day alone – choose wisely how and with whom you spend your time because almost never are we given the opportunity to live a day a second time.