Saturday, December 5, 2015
Triplets of Stillness: Mary of Bethany Listening at Christ’s Feet
Triplets in Scripture reflecting God as Trinity continue in the three Marys who were close to Christ in His earthly ministry; the three life events the Bible shows us of Mary of Bethany; and her family unit of three siblings, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:1-5).
One of these three events takes place among three people in Martha’s home, where she as the hostess has invited Jesus to dinner, and Mary is there also (Luke 10: 38-42). Jesus has just told His disciples the parable of the Good Samaritan about being a true neighbor, motivated by love like the Samaritan, instead of by religious service, like the priest, or self-righteousness, like the Levite (Luke 10:29-37). Jesus and His disciples went along their way, until He entered the village of Bethany and visited Martha’s house (v. 38).
Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? No doubt you would prepare by cleaning the house, gathering the best foods to serve Him, and making your home as inviting as possible. I’m sure Martha did that, and her sister Mary also, but when Jesus arrived, Martha continued attending to the meal rather than to the Master. Mary chose wisely (v. 42) to spend these precious moments as close to Jesus as she could, sitting at His feet and hearing His Word (v. 39).
In contrast, Martha showed her love for Jesus by taking care of every detail of His visit. Yet her service kept her too busy to appreciate His company, resulting in her accusing Jesus of not caring that she was doing all the work, and demanding that He ask Mary to help her (v. 40).
It makes me wonder how many times, in the name of Christian service, that we lose sight of our love for Christ and one another, complain about how much we are working without recognition, and make demands of those whom we are trying to serve.
Instead of receiving from Jesus a pat on the back, kind word of appreciation, and help enlisted from Mary, Martha must have been shocked to hear Jesus say she was “cumbered,” or preoccupied with her service; “careful,” or anxious that the work would not be completed; and “troubled” about many things (v. 40-41).
No doubt she was hurt, yet Jesus also must have been grieved that Martha focused more on her service than on her Savior, that she was anxious even in the presence of perfect Love Who casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), and troubled even though He urged His followers not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1, 27).
Although I wonder how Martha could fail in this way even when in the direct presence of Jesus Christ Himself, I know I am often guilty of her sins. All of us who have been saved by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) through our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) have His Holy Spirit always with us (John 14:16). And yet there are times when doing, serving, and complaining suit us better than just being God’s children, receiving His love, and listening to His Word.
Like Martha, we may feel that the more we do to serve God without being rewarded, the more we are justified in complaining and even accusing Him of not loving us. May we be more like Mary, who recognized that He is all we need (Philippians 4:19), chose to bask in His presence, and was secure that nothing could separate her from Christ’s love (Luke 10: 42; Romans 8:35-39).
Both women loved Jesus dearly and believed He was the Son of God, and Jesus loved them (John 11:1-27). But Martha got caught up in the distraction of religious service, the pride of self-righteousness, and lashing out at our Lord with demanding anger rather than the submissive, tender, self-sacrificing love He so richly deserves.
As we see earlier in Luke, Mary epitomized that kind of love, as she sacrificed her pride, offered her body as a living sacrifice, and gave her earthly treasure to worship Jesus as she anointed Him with precious ointment Luke 7: 37-50). At the dinner in Martha’s house, listening to Jesus was precious to Mary, and she savored every loving smile and tender word He gave her, which could never be taken from her (Luke 10: 39,42).
Mary’s behavior illustrates that God created us for intimate fellowship with Him, for the “good pleasure” of His will, a phrase that the apostle Paul uses three times (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 1:5,9). Believers today no longer have the blessing of literally sitting at Jesus’ feet, but we can still learn from Him through His Word (Psalm 119); listen for His still, small voice as we pray (1 Kings 19:12); and submit to His perfect will for our lives (Luke 22:42).
As Oswald Chambers said:
You have no idea of where or how God is going to engineer your future circumstances, and no knowledge of what stress and strain is going to be placed on you either at home or abroad. And if you waste your time in overactivity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God’s redemption, then you will snap when the stress and strain do come. But if this time of soaking before God is being spent in getting rooted and grounded in Him, which may appear to be impractical, then you will remain true to Him whatever happens.
Jesus Himself found time apart from the crowds, His ministry, and His disciples to be alone with His Father (Luke 5:16; Matthew 26:36); to wait for God to speak (Luke 3:22); and to submit to the Father’s perfect will (Luke 22:42). Like Mary of Bethany, may we learn to be still (Psalm 46:10), and know that He is God!
© 2015 Laurie Collett