This morning, one brief sentence from the Gospel doubled my enjoyment of God. The sentence goes: “Martha served.” (John 12:2)
When we think of Martha, many of us think of Martha complaining in relation to her sister, Mary. In an earlier Gospel scene, Martha receives Jesus into her house but then resents Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. Feeling anger toward both her sister and her Lord, Martha asks Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus offers the fascinating response, “One thing is needful,” and then he adds, “Mary has chosen the good portion.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Most of us know that Martha’s problem, if that’s the right word, is not her activism. Instead, what troubles her are distractions and resentment. So for her to choose the “one thing needful” does not mean she tries to live exactly like Mary. Instead, she can choose to follow Jesus as herself, as Martha, who seems to have a gift for hospitality.
In John 12, Martha again receives Jesus into her home; she again works hard to prepare a meal for him, but this time she evidences not a hint of distraction or resentment. Instead, she makes it possible for her brother Lazarus to sit at table with Jesus, and she provides the setting for Mary to honour Jesus with costly ointment. In this case, the saying of Jesus from a different but parallel scene applies to both sisters, “She has done a beautiful thing for me.” (Mark 14:6)
So the sentence [or clause] “she served” doubled my enjoyment of God by portraying Martha in her best light. Maybe I claim a little too much by saying “doubled” my enjoyment, but I find the statement close to the truth. In my sermons for the next few weeks, I will be preaching on Job, and I find myself feeling new respect not only for the poetical, protesting Job in chapters 3-31 but also for the prose, pious Job in chapters 1-2. In the past, I have found poetical Job much more fascinating than prose Job. Today, I find myself increasingly intrigued by prose Job, and I see the two sides of Job as iron sharpening iron. Working together, they give me insight into the Scriptures as a double-edged sword revealing a mysterious yet trustworthy God. That’s a joy.
I believe our Lord enjoys both Mary at her best and Martha at her best. I believe God delights in both prose Job and poetical Job. I believe God desires you and me to be the best selves God created us to be, and when we show hospitality to one another in all kinds of different ways, we provide a setting for those best selves to emerge. I find it happy that the sentence “Martha served” makes me more inclined to glorify and enjoy God forever.