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The Fifth Sunday of Trinity is on July 17, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 10:38-42

10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Ever since I first paid attention to this reading in my early teens, part of my heart goes out to Martha.

Martha was a pragmatist. Even when Jesus appeared after hers and Mary’s brother Lazarus died and He asked to see the body, she said:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

She did not want to expose Jesus to any unpleasantness. She wanted everything to be just right.

Moving on to Luke’s Gospel, John MacArthur explains the narrative that has been unfolding since Luke 9 and which will extend into Luke 19:38:

that whole section is primarily going to focus on His teaching ministry. It’s a teaching time. Miracles will take a backseat. They are only occasionally mentioned. The emphasis is going to be on the Lord’s teaching. And the students, through this whole six months, are primarily His apostles and disciples. This is their final semester in preparation for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is their final preparation to proclaim the will of God, to ready them to be inspired by the Spirit, some of them to write the New Testament. And what dominates this section is teaching. Luke isn’t even interested in where Jesus goes. Here we read in verse 38 He entered a certain village. In chapter 11 verse 1 He was praying in a certain place. And it’s going to be like that until chapter 18 verse 35 and we finally get a town mentioned. And it’s Jericho, Jericho down at the Dead Sea, from which Jesus starts up to Jerusalem. Luke is not concerned about where Jesus is. And as I said, miracles are only occasionally discussed. The focus here is on the content of His teaching, not on where. And we’re not even sure that this is necessarily in chronological sequence. We can’t hold Luke to that. This is not necessarily in the order that Jesus taught all of this. In fact, He crisscrossed in Judea even into the border areas of Galilee into Perea, moving north and south and east and west all over that area throughout this time. But what is important is that we learn what He taught. This is private instruction from the incarnate God of the universe, nothing like it. It is in many ways the richest time in this whole gospel of Luke

Now the Lord’s teaching is radical. The Lord’s teaching calls for a departure from Jewish conventional wisdom. It is cogent. It is powerful. It is urgent. It is and is and will be life changing. For us this could be the greatest adventure of our Christian life. It will all sort of culminate when we come into chapter 19 verse 28, Jesus will enter Jerusalem, start the last week of His life, which runs to the end of chapter 23 and then chapter 24 is the resurrection. So we’re going to be in school with Jesus for the last months of His life. And He prepares us for this with this wonderful little story of Martha and Mary.

Matthew Henry calls to our attention the fact that Jesus spent much of His time in villages and the countryside:

Christ honoured the country-villages with his presence and favour, and not the great and populous cities only; for, as he chose privacy, so he countenanced poverty.

That is something to keep in mind, especially as history shows us that people have often scorned the countryside and those they consider to be ‘country bumpkins’. Jesus thought — and acted — differently in this regard.

Luke tells us that as ‘they’ — Jesus and His disciples — went on their way, He entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home (verse 38).

Henry says:

This village was Bethany, nigh to Jerusalem, whither Christ was now going up, and he took this in his way.

MacArthur has more on Bethany, the village that would become so pivotal for Jesus:

The name of the village was Bethany. How do we know that? Because we find out from John in John 11 and 12 that that’s where Mary and Martha lived with their brother Lazarus. And so we know this village, Bethany. Been there many, many times. It’s just a little under two miles east of the eastern wall of Jerusalem, just over the top of the Mount of Olives and down the backside … Bethany was so near to Jerusalem as just to be a brief walk. And that’s where He was, indicating again His crisscrossing. This isn’t at the end, this is many months before He’ll finally go back to Bethany, stay with Mary and Martha, raise Lazarus from the dead, then enter the city when the buzz has hit the whole city that He raised him from the dead. And that is the thing that finally precipitates His crucifixion because the leaders realize He’s completely taken over the people. That comes later.

This may have been the first visit, may have been the first time they met. But between this time and the last time when Lazarus was raised from the dead, there may have been other visits in between because by the time you get to the account of Lazarus, He knows them very well, very intimate and perhaps had stayed there on a number of occasions. But for now, He comes to this village of Bethany. And it says there in verse 38, “A woman named Martha,” and the language here indicates that He probably didn’t know her. It doesn’t say a friend, it doesn’t say Martha. It says a woman named Martha.

We know from the past few weeks in the Year C readings, specifically those from the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity, that Jesus and His disciples did not always receive a welcome when they entered a village.

Here, they did.

MacArthur shows us that Martha gave Jesus and His disciples a warm welcome:

“Martha” is an Aramaic word meaning “mistress.”  That is rather than the master of the house, the mistress of the house.  It suits her since obviously she appears to be the hostess and it is her houseShe is likely the oldest because she’s usually named first when Martha and Mary are namedAnd also likely she was a widow since no husband is named.  Well she welcomed Him.  That’s a grand word. Dechomai is to receive. Hupodechomai is to embrace and entertain as a guest.  They were happy to have Him.  They were excited to have HimThey believed in Him.

How do you know that?  Verse 40, Martha says to Him, “Lord,” Kurios. They had at some point embraced the truth that He was Lord.  And here He was coming to their town, they having heard the gospel perhaps from the seventy. Perhaps they had been some who had been delivered from demons when the seventy went out. We don’t know.  But she rushed to take the initiative.  And here was a receptive house.  And you remember the instruction for the seventy, when you go into a house and they’ll take you there, stay there. Remember?  Stay there.  Her goal was to take Jesus in, serve Him with hospitalityThis is only equaled by Abraham and Sarah having God and two angels come for dinner.  Here comes God and the apostles and whoever else and she makes extensive preparations, of course.

Luke tells us that Martha had a sister Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He was saying (verse 39).

It appears that this was a spontaneous and natural act for Mary.

She was also the lady who anointed Jesus with nard, a very expensive perfume used in embalming, a short time before He was crucified.

That also appeared to be a spontaneous reaction. She was, it would seem, a woman for whom still waters — emotion — ran deep.

Here is Matthew’s account (Matthew 26:6-13). Those nearby criticised Mary for her heartfelt act of love for the Lord. He, in turn, rebuked them:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Returning to today’s reading, MacArthur tells us that it was highly unusual for a woman to sit at a man’s feet. Only a man could do that:

The rabbis didn’t allow that.  A woman could learn in the back, or in the woman’s section.  But to come up and be at His feet, actually parakathezomai, para, alongside, she was as close as she could get, as near as she could be.  Her position indicated her intense interest in His teaching.  She got as close as she could get not to miss a wordShe was literally riveted to the most powerful, clear, truthful teacher who ever spoke.  There she is right alongside Jesus, sitting at His feet.  That’s a term we use today.  When you say you go to school, you sit at the feet of a certain scholar. It’s borrowed from the ancient world But women didn’t have that privilege.  Some rabbis said it’s useless to teach a woman.  It wasn’t. It isn’t.  She didn’t care about conventional wisdom. She was there listening to the Lord’s words, the closer the betterAnd she demonstrates the attitude of a true believer.

We can see from that there was but a short step in her mind to anointing Jesus with precious perfume some time later.

Meanwhile, Martha was elsewhere in the house, ‘distracted by her many tasks’; in her frustration, she went up to Jesus and asked if He did not care that she was left with all the work, wanting Him to tell Mary to go and help her (verse 40).

Henry points out the good and the bad side of Martha in that verse:

1. Something commendable, which must not be overlooked. (1.) Here was a commendable respect to our Lord Jesus; for we have reason to think it was not for ostentation, but purely to testify her good-will to him, that she made this entertainment. Note, Those who truly love Christ will think that well bestowed that is laid out for his honour. (2.) Here was a commendable care of her household affairs. It appears, from the respect shown to this family among the Jews (John 11 19), that they were persons of some quality and distinction; and yet Martha herself did not think it a disparagement to her to lay her hand even to the service of the family, when there was occasion for it. Note, It is the duty of those who have the charge of families to look well to the ways of their household. The affectation of state and the love of ease make many families neglected.

2. Here was something culpable, which we must take notice of too. (1.) She was for much serving. Her heart was upon it, to have a very sumptuous and splendid entertainment; great plenty, great variety, and great exactness, according to the fashion of the place. She was in care, peri pollen diakonianconcerning much attendance. Note, It does not become the disciples of Christ to affect much serving, to affect varieties, dainties, and superfluities in eating and drinking; what need is there of much serving, when much less will serve? (2.) She was cumbered about it; periespato—she was just distracted with it. Note, Whatever cares the providence of God casts upon us we must not be cumbered with them, nor be disquieted and perplexed by them. Care is good and duty; but cumber is sin and folly. (2.) She was then cumbered about much serving when she should have been with her sister, sitting at Christ’s feet to hear his word. Note, Worldly business is then a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting good to our souls.

Martha made a bold, possibly impertinent, request of our Lord.

In response, Jesus gently rebuked Martha, addressing her by her first name, to make it all the more pertinent, telling her that she was worried and distracted by many things (verse 41) — too many things.

Henry says:

He repeated her name, Martha, Martha; he speaks as one in earnest, and deeply concerned for her welfare. Those that are entangled in the cares of this life are not easily disentangled. To them we must call again and again, O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.

Jesus said that there is only one thing which is important and Mary chose the better part, which will not be taken away from her (verse 42).

MacArthur gives us this analysis about Martha and our Lord’s response to her:

she was doing it for the Lord, the guest of all guests. But in the process she just had her priorities completely twisted. Forget that. You’ve got God in there speaking divine truth, Martha. She’s fussing around all over the place trying to get done what she wants done the way she wants it done and loses sight completely of a rare privilege, to hear the Lord of the universe teach privately and personally she and her sister; could have learned from His lips. Her sister took the privilege; she got it. Furthermore, it wasn’t bad enough that Martha’s priorities were messed up, but once your priorities get messed up your attitude does too. So she starts losing the joy of this service. She becomes agitated. She becomes frustrated. And then she gets mad. That is not the right attitude by which to dispense your hospitality. At the apex of her exasperation, she acted in a way that shows how twisted she was, how easy it is to start out doing something good but because you don’t understand what is best, even what is good, creates selfishness, frustration, and then you do something that’s outrageous. Because you can’t contain your attitude, it comes out.

Look at this. “She came up to Him.” I mean just that. “Lord, could You just hold it there for a minute? And I know these are important things. Could You…” She came up to Him. What she should have done, especially when she was frustrated and angry and full of anxiety, irritated, she should have just gone in there and sat down next to Mary and listened. The Lord didn’t care about the stuff. He didn’t care about the meal. He came to teach the truth. If He ate or didn’t eat, it wouldn’t matter to Him or the rest. She comes up to Jesus and she says this, “Lord, do You not care?” That’s unbelievable. What an indictment. “Do You not care?” I mean, that is one of the most graceless statements ever made by a human being to Jesus. Do you mean the One on whom you cast all your care because He cares for you? Do you not care? That is a sad attack. That is an unthinking indictment. She’s out of control, she’s over the top. This is what we call, “She’s lost it.” It’s like saying, “Well, are You just going to stand there or sit there, whatever posture Jesus was in, and just keep talking about divine life-changing, soul-transforming, sin-shattering, heavenly blessing-producing joy, giving peace, bringing glorious truth, and ignore the fact that the table isn’t set?”

I mean, she could have come up behind Jesus, you know, and got Mary’s attention and gone… But to come up to Jesus and say what she said? Specifically she says, “Do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?” I know You know all the secrets of time and eternity. I know You know all that needs to be known about life and death, righteousness and iniquity, and all the glories of heaven. But do You know the bread is burning? And Mary is just sitting there doing nothing.

Now Martha was all caught up in the bread that perishes, wasn’t she? She was worried about the bread that feeds the body and Mary was into the bread that feeds the soul. What a skewed view. And finally she says, well it’s kind of hidden in there, “I assume You do understand that so tell her to help me.” She’s gone all the way to commanding God. Tell her to help me. Staggering, frankly, to me; this is a very bossy lady. And it all comes because she has a twisted priority. She doesn’t get it …

Now, you know, the Lord could have said to her, “Whoa, back off, Martha,” like we might.  But He didn’t, so gracious.  Verse 41, “The Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha…'” There’s tenderness in that, isn’t there?  “Martha, Martha.”  It’s a rebuke but it’s a sympathetic rebuke.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried,” merimnaō, to be unduly concerned, “and bothered,” thorubazō, to be troubled.  You are all messed up, worried, bothered about so many things, but only a few things are necessary, really only one.  This is corrective, but it’s sympatheticIt was good to do what she did, but not then, not when it was time to hear the Word of God.  And He says this amazing statement, “Only a few things are necessary, really only one.”  You can boil it down, a few things. David said, “I…I just seek Your face, I just want to see Your beauty.”  Paul said, “I want to be like You, I want to see Your beauty, I want to be like You, I want to love You.”  Well all that boils down to one, doesn’t it?  You have to know Me. And how you going to know Me?  You’ve got to know My mind.  How you going to know My mind?  Hear My Word.

The lesson of the story, MacArthur tells us, is this:

How can you tell a true believer? They hear the Word of God and they do itShe had a desire to hear the Word of God. She grasped the amazing opportunity. Here was the Lord in of all places in her little village, of all places her house, in her little room and she was sitting at His feet and hearing the very truth of God from the lips of the Lord of heaven Himself. And her priority was to hear, to listen, to love that truth, to believe that truth, to act on that truth.

The single priority for all Christians is to hear the revealed Word of God because that is prior to every other spiritual duty, which is motivated by, informed by, and defined by Scripture. The story makes it so clear. Number one priority, hear what God has said. Now if that’s your responsibility, what is mine? Pretty obvious. To tell you what God has said. Is that not true? Talk about basic and simple, that’s it. And how rare is that? How many times every week of my life do I hear from people, “We cannot find a church anywhere in our place where the pastor will tell us what is in the Bible,” unthinkable

Nothing is as important as divine truth. It is the priority. And the Lord takes Mary’s side. This rare opportunity is too rich and too critical to turn to anything else.

May all reading this have a blessed and beautiful Sunday.

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