Can you do ministry and miss Jesus? Well, yeah. Good things are done with no connection to Jesus all the time. Those things are still service. Feeding the hungry is not the end all. Neither is attempting to end oppression. These are good things; right things; necessary things. But, again, many do good things for many reasons other than because they believe in Jesus. And here’s a perplexing paradox for you: people can do good things in the name of Jesus and still miss Jesus. I mean, Jesus said that many will say, “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And his reply will be “I never knew you; depart from me . . .” It is easy to pat yourself on the back and proclaim that you’re are doing “ministry” as if ministry in and of itself was the key. Jesus is the key. Always has been. Always will be
The traveling motif is picked up again in Luke 10:38-42. As Jesus and his entourage were journeying along toward Jerusalem, they entered into a village. John tells us that where Martha and Mary lived was Bethany, which was about two miles east of Jerusalem. It is Martha who welcomes Jesus, and presumably his disciples, into her house. This is good and links her with those who receive the message when the Twelve and later the seventy were sent out. Make no mistake, Martha is immediately cast in a positive light. This is important to the story. This is not the tale of one sister who refuse to accept Jesus and another who does.
And the other sister? Her name is Mary and we see her sitting at the feet of Jesus. This was a specific phrase that meant clearly that she was behaving as a disciple, sitting at the feet of her rabbi. This is amazing due to the simple fact that rabbis didn’t allow female disciples. Some have even suggested that this was part of Martha’s concern. Mary was doing men’s work and neglecting women’s work. In her excitement over Jesus’ message she forgot her place. Maybe. Some suggest that this is reading too much into the story. We know that women were not expected to sit at the feet of a rabbi. We know that cultural and religious society reduced their ministry to cooking and serving tables. And isn’t it interesting that at many a preacher’s workshop we see this same scenario playing out today?
We are told that Martha was distracted by many things. You know how it is? You want everything to be perfect for your guest. So much so that you don’t spend any time with your guest. The meal pulls at you. Does everyone have something to drink? Are there enough places for everyone to sit? Well maybe, if Mary would occupy her given place. The word “preparations” is “ministries.” It is usually used in a positive sense. The problem is the distraction; the drive to make sure everything is just right; the ministry becoming more important that the Savior. Martha rebuked Jesus; “Don’t you even care that Mary has left all of the women’s work for me to do?” Then she even gets a little bossy. Tell her to help me! This is not a request. It is in the imperative – command language.
Jesus responds with a “Martha, Martha.” When Jesus uses your name twice, pay attention. Most agree that it is a gentle criticism. Jesus used two words to describe her mental state. She is worried, the word Jesus used in Matthew 6:25-34 to describe anxious worrying, and she is bothered or troubled. Some have suggested Jesus is referring to a dual – physical and emotional – anxiety. More likely, he is emphasizing how fractured she is. She is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, growing angrier and angrier over Mary’s insensitive neglect. Then Jesus tells her “one thing is necessary.” What? Mary has chosen the good part. The word part can refer to a dish set on the table. That has triggered a lot of discussion. What we need to know is Jesus refused to take her choice from her.
This is not a choice between good and better. If you miss Jesus, it doesn’t matter how good the thing you are doing is. You’ve missed the point; the key; the crux. Jesus! Yes, of course, meals will not prepare themselves and so somebody will need to prepare a meal. But when Jesus is in your house, you sit at his feet and feast on the dish he is serving. Man or woman, adult or child, doesn’t matter. You choose the good part and that will never be taken from you. You put Jesus first and then the rest will fall into place. Sit at the feet of Jesus! Don’t excuse yourself and run around all anxious about making sure everything is just so. It’s okay! We will survive if we miss a meal. But we won’t survive if we miss Jesus.