Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

by | Jul 17, 2022 | Sermons

Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

We pick up immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan with another passage that flips the script on what we might expect. I think most individuals when they read about the visit of Jesus to Martha’s home think that Martha is in the right and Mary should help out a bit more. However, that isn’t the passage we are given. Our task is to cut through this bias to discover what We are being taught about God. 

Scripture: Luke 10: 38-42

Do any of you like to write lists?

Shopping lists are perhaps the most well-known lists. All those things we need to pick up at the grocery store. The list helps us organize our thoughts; we can list our items by department, so we don’t miss anything. Additionally, a well-organized list keeps us from spending money on items we don’t need.

Perhaps you have a list of projects that need completed around the house. Clean the washrooms, vacuum, mop the floor, water the plants, and do the laundry. I have a list of the things I need to accomplish in a day or a week. Lists can be fun, but they can be exhausting too. How we organize our lists might also be helpful. Perhaps we write out a list and realize we haven’t set priorities, it’s just random tasks. Suddenly, we are rewriting the list and putting the most important items at the top, then working our way down in importance.

Soon we might discover we have several lists going: the grocery list, the work tasks list, the home improvements list, the daily chores list. Before we know it, we are creating a list of all our lists! Then we stop and reflect and we realize that we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time making, codifying and organizing our lists. We got so excited by our lists that we became distracted and didn’t do any of the things that are on the lists.

We might become frustrated, but hopefully we won’t try to write another list out to fix the problem. I think this is a little who Martha felt. Her home became a bustling spot when Jesus and the disciples came for a visit. She had many tasks to attend to. The visit may have come as a surprise and perhaps she felt the need to quickly clean up. With guests in the house, she had food to prepare, people to feed, never mind the mess that makes.

Martha is probably an independent woman who is financially stable. It is also possible that she is a widow as there is no mention of her husband. Within the culture of Jesus’ day if there was a husband that is the name that would have been used regarding the household. Society was patriarchal and the oldest males name was used. Luke is explicit that a woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, not her husbands home.

Martha, her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus are friends of Jesus. She is happy to welcome him and disciples into her home. In this culture women were expected to wait on the men. It was a patriarchal and these were assumed gender roles. Jesus appears to be putting that assumption to test when he comments that Mary has chosen the better part by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Additionally, it would have been the men who sat around and listened to the Rabbi teach, not the women. Jesus promotes a vision of equality in this passage.

This is another shocking passage right on the heels of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The question we might ask about Martha, is what was she distracted from? The answer to that is obvious, it is Jesus who has come to visit. It’s an interesting situation and perhaps one we can relate too. We are so focused on welcoming a guest and being hospitable to them that become distracted and are unable to enjoy their presence.

That leads us to Mary who is doing the opposite of her sister, much to Martha’s dismay. We are told that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened.” This is the description of a student. In Acts 22:3 Paul describes himself as having been “brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law…” Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher. Mary is acting as a disciple, sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing the word of God.

There is a bit of a duality at play here. The first is the ministry of hospitality which Martha represents. The second is the ministry of the Word, that is learning about Jesus and God, this is what Mary represents.

What do we take out of this passage: That both serving and learning are important. However, we are better able to go and serve after sitting at the feet of Jesus and meditating on the Word. Doing so will enable us to be distraction free.

What should we make from the words we find in verse 40 that Martha was distracted by her many tasks? In verse 41, the NRSV which I read from this morning, we are told that Martha was once again distracted. Some translations use a different word here, including the Good News, and this is a good thing. Because though they might be conveying a similar mental state, the word in the Greek is different.  This is a clue from the text to help us see what is going on. While Martha would appear to be doing what is what is expected of her, the message that the passage is trying to convey is to put the teaching of Jesus first. It’s similar to last week where we assume the Priest and Levite would be the hero, but the it’s the Samaritan who has it correct. The same thing is going on here. Martha is the one who is acting as we might expect, but it is Mary who has the appropriate focus.

As I mentioned this passage comes immediately after the telling of the Good Samaritan. A passage that shifts us away from ritual practice of understanding about neighbour and goodness. A parable that shocks the reader by flipping the script on who the hero of the story is. It shouldn’t have been the Samaritan, yet they are the one who showed mercy. In this passage Mary should not be the hero, she is the one who is not doing what is expected of her. But Jesus flips the script and demonstrates that Mary, not Martha, has the right of things.

It’s a reminder that though life is busy and full of distractions. We should try and keep mindful of God’s presence in our lives. To spend time with the Word, to prepare ourselves for the day. So that in all things we can check ourselves, ask if we are acting appropriately, if we are behaving in a way that God might find pleasing.

Life is full of distractions; we can write out our lists but even then we might get bogged down in the busyness of it all.

Ensure that you do as Mary did. Take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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