open door policy

It’s one of the most famous scenes in the New Testament. Jesus is in a village named Bethany. There, a woman named Martha lives with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. Most translations say Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Some say she opened her home. The New Life Version says she “cared for Jesus in her home.” And for doing so, I believe Martha has gotten a bum rap that has lasted for 20 centuries:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Martha is judged for misjudging Mary’s inaction in the meal preparation and for focusing on menial tasks instead of Jesus. But I’m among those who believe Martha gets a bit of a bum rap. It’s vital in any church body that people with the gift of hospitality be present. In other words, we need “Marthas.” And as Ronald Harbaugh writes in a sermon he shared online, Martha was not preparing for a small party:

“This certainly would not have been an easy task for Martha to fulfill. As one of the commentaries pointed out, there may have been well over one hundred people at this meal. As Luke points out in this tenth chapter of his Gospel, there was Jesus and his original twelve disciples. In addition, there were the seventy whom Jesus sent out, and who returned, plus whoever else might have been tagging along.”

I never considered that before. This was not unlike a meal we would see at modern wedding receptions. It likely would have been extravagant to comply with the Jewish norms of hospitality of the day. Yes, Jesus’ point is that focusing on Him, spending time with Him, is always more important than anything else. But he’s not criticizing the work Martha is doing. What He was saying is that in that moment, spending time with Him was more important than meeting the traditional Jewish standards when welcoming His entourage.

We need to know the work God is calling us to and when He is calling us to it. That’s not to say the work Martha was doing was unimportant. It just wasn’t the most important thing at that moment.  If your church has a Martha or multiple Marthas, be thankful for her or them. If you are a Martha at your church, know that your work is important, and that it brings glory to God.

Mary’s actions with Jesus teach us a critically important lesson: He comes first. But let’s not learn the wrong lesson from Martha’s actions. She opened her door to Jesus, welcomed Him and served Him. Service to others is important. But let’s remember always to put the One who is most important before anything else.

 — Pastor Jerry Bader

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