Moses, Mary, & Martha

The reading this week takes us from Luke 10-11:36 In this reading we’ll see Jesus send out 72 disciples to prepare the way for his ministry, teaching on the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rejection of Jesus’ power and authority by some of his followers. I want to focus on the 72, and Mary and Martha since recent teachings at East Side have focused on these other areas.

Most Christians are familiar with the 12 tribes of Israel, and can readily see a connection between them and Jesus’ 12 closest disciples (often called “the twelve”). Most have no idea where the 72 comes in, but it is tucked away in the often ignored pages of your Old Testament. Numbers 11:24-26 share with us a story of Moses gathering 70 elders from the tribes of Israel together, and God took some of the Spirit’s power that rested upon Moses and extended it to the elders. You may be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s 70. Not 72.” The text tells us that there were two who didn’t join the other 70 (named Eldad and Medad), but God’s Spirit came to rest on them anyway and they also prophesied along with the others, bringing our total to 72.

When Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples (keep in mind these are 72 besides the 12 according to 10:1, and may have been males and females [see 8:1-3]), this is a clear sign that Jesus has supplanted Moses as spiritual leader of Israel. What God did for Moses has also been done for Jesus, but to a more powerful extent. As the Hebrew writer would tell us: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. – Hebrews 3:3

Later, Jesus and his disciples are invited into the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha provided great hospitality by making preparations for Jesus and his disciples, but Mary took the position of a disciple by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. In the first century Jewish culture women could hear the Torah taught in synagogue, but females were not taught by rabbis. It was expected for women to fulfill their domestic responsibilities, just as Martha was doing. Martha, who understood this cultural practice well, tries to get Jesus to side with her, but Jesus wasn’t concerned with cultural norms. Let’s look at their conversation:

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – 10:40-42

Jesus praised Mary for sitting at his feet, something their culture would never do! But we misapply Jesus’ comments by suggesting that Martha’s work wasn’t important, and further misapply when we suggest we should elevate learning about Jesus to the exclusion of working for him. Jesus teaches nothing of the sort. Jesus doesn’t discount Martha’s work, but does indicate that only one of these actions is eternal (will not be taken away.) Doing the work of Martha is important, yes, but what we learn at the feet of Jesus keeps us focused on the who, and the why of what we do. We absolutely should be like Martha, busy with the work of the kingdom. But let us never forget to be like Mary, or else we won’t focus on who we are working for.

Ministries and good works will come and go, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. – Matt

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