Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Don't Try to Take Away Another Servant's Portion

If you've been in church for a while, you've almost certainly heard a sermon (or two, or hundred) on the story of Mary and Martha. If you've been in a women's Bible study of any kind, you've probably studied it pretty thoroughly.

If you haven't, allow me to give you a very quick synopsis:

Jesus comes to a village, and two women welcome Him and His followers into their home. Mary is completely enthralled by Jesus (not in a romantic way, but in a respectful way), but Martha is thoroughly distracted by the concerns of feeding Jesus and His entourage. Martha gets fed up and asks Jesus to stick up for her to her sister, but Jesus speaks instead to Martha, telling her that "one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good potion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42)

Because this passage is taught so often, you may have already heard what I have to say. If so, awesome! It couldn't hurt to hear it again. If not, that's cool, too. You're going to hear it today.

Martha isn't especially selfish or arrogant, in my opinion. I think that her reaction is pretty typical. I don't know if she really believed that Mary was being lazy or if she saw the joy and excitement Mary was experiencing and got jealous. I personally think it's a great thing that we don't fully understand Martha's motivation because we see both at work within the church.

We see the frustrated church members who are tired from all of their work and who speak against the people in the church who are "lazy" and not doing enough. We also see people who are jealous of someone else's intimate relationship with Jesus who try to defend their own spiritual life by tearing others' down. And if we're being really, really honest, we see the same two motives within our own hearts. We get frustrated with people who don't do as much as we think they should, and we get defensive about the people who are serving better than we think we do.

And, just like Martha, we judge. Instead of listening to what our hearts are telling us, we try to take away the portion that God has given to His servants, whether that is joy in service or joyous intimacy.

Instead of inspiration, we draw antagonism.

Martha isn't our first glimpse of this problem. The same thing happened between Cain and Abel when Abel's gift to God was accepted and Cain's wasn't. Cain gets murderously angry with Abel, but God responds by telling him, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:6-7)

Cain wanted to be Abel's master. Martha wanted to be Mary's master. The problem is that they both already had a Master. In both situations, the Master had very similar advice. We can either humbly learn how to love God better by learning from those whose spiritual lives and service make us jealous or frustrated, or we can choose to act as his or her master and separate ourselves farther from them and farther from God.

But here's God's promise and His warning: God will not take away a faithful servant's reward because of our frustrations. We can either choose to share in their rewards by learning from them or we can choose to miss out because of our own arrogance and stubbornness.

Although the story ended very badly for Cain, we see that it doesn't have to. In John 11, we see Jesus interacting with these sisters at a later point, and we learn that Jesus and Martha have become very close. They have a very personal relationship that is marked by Martha's faith in Jesus. She learned from her wise teacher, and the result was intimate relationship with the Lord of Life.

The same opportunity is available to us today. Let's not pass it up!