Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea. And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it – Amos 8:11-12.
The story of Mary and Martha is filled with missional and timeless lessons. The challenge with us as leaders pulled in different directions by what seem to be common threads of life in our fast-paced world and declining church is that we all have aspects of Mary and Martha within us. I believe that, God is calling us to have our priorities in missional order. For example, like any other Christian practices, hospitality is a matter of the heart and the battle ranging today in the home, church and nations is the battle of the heart.
The highest priority and demand to overcome the battle of the heart is to listen to God’s Word, obey, and receive His gifts of life and salvation. Like the people of Old Testament, we cannot overcome or survive without God’s Word. The time Amos spoke about – a famine of God’s word was not that God’s word was absent because like our time, we have different versions of ‘the Bible on our bookshelves, on our laptops and on our Ipads and smart phones. But do we reach for it as often as we download bestsellers or play our game apps?’ In our media-driven world, words are a massive feature, yet little actually changes, information without transformation. ‘Lives are not saved. Injustice is not exposed and removed. Peace is not created.’ Busyness and famine of the Word in Martha’s world challenges the empty words of theology of our time and calls on preachers to account with the readiness to repent and hold to Bible standard with accompanying missional actions.
Martha was a good woman loved by Jesus. The problem with Martha was that her joy, theology, leadership, satisfaction were sanctified on the altar of self-appointment, pride, and service. Beyond Martha’s negative and positive nature, she opened her home, brought Jesus there but Jesus wanted her heart more than her home. One can open his or her home to visitor without opening the ears and heart. Martha opened her house to Jesus without opening her ear and heart to Jesus. We are living in a world full of humanism shaped by people and even church not wanting God and His truth to interfere with their lives, theology and routines. An epidemic of selfishness continue to create all kinds of unhealthy situations and distractions clamouring for our attention and devotion. When distractions and cares of life become more of a priority than our relationship with Jesus we develop an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride (Exd 20:3, Deut 5:8-9). Martha built her self-worth from what she did, rather than who she was in Jesus Christ. Beloved, where do you get your self-worth? Is it from your inner being or outer activity like Martha?
In a Martha’s world and church as ours today, the saying is, ‘the Bible said it, and since it is outdated and not up to societal and political standard of the day, we the people will settle it.’ In settling it we become a sell out. The church may be good in social action which is not exclusive to Christianity alone, however, the scandal of biblical illiteracy is our major problem today Martha’s world and church. The ten commandment has become ten suggestions with tendency to compromise or redefine. We are in a Martha’s church and world shaped by misplaced priorities, unwarranted overconfidence, pride, love, and pretence of being too busy.
Distraction is the highest hindrance to listening and worship (Lk 10: 39-40). Martha was not stopping her ears and refusing to listen. She was just distracted just as many can be in the church missing half of the message on Sunday due to distraction with cares and responsibilities. Today, ministry and leadership constitutes biggest distraction to the pursuit of true intimacy, theology, encounter, conversion and knowledge about Jesus Christ. Many things are important, but ONLY one thing is necessary and that is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Genuine hospitality, that is, the ‘art of making people want to stay without interfering with their departure’ is built on relationship with Jesus Christ. Effective social responsibility and actions flows from a Christ-centred life. Good works not centred on Christ are very dangerous and diminishing just as Martha was taken over by her emotions, temporarily lost her mind and was bossing Jesus around commanding Him to command her sister to help. Inappropriate policies, debates, and talk about Jesus are not only causing people to speak without deep reflection, our decline, stress and frustration are compounded. When our human feelings and emotions boss our spiritual priority, delusion, pride and disorder sets in.
The view of Martha’s world and church about Jesus as a wish-granter expecting to get what they want and when they want amounts to missional delusion and disorder that bloats our egos. Martha broke all the missional rules of true Christian hospitality by embarrassing Mary in front of her guest. Martha was asking her guest to intervene in a family dispute and even trying to implicate Jesus, “Lord, do you not care…?” Martha missed out on the “one thing needed” for true Christian hospitality. In this life, many things will be taken away, even our lives, but our relationship with Jesus Christ is eternal.
Jesus’ words to Martha, an invitation rather than a rebuke “Martha Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” resonates with one thing you need to receive the gracious presence of Jesus. Let us pray and ask God to humble us and deliver us from the busyness and bossiness of our human feelings and emotions that divides and declines us. One of the hymns of John Sammis (1887), “When we walk with the Lord’ encourages us to renounce and repent from misplaced priorities in order to overcome distractions:
When we walk with the
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way;
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.