Is Martha not doing like the Good Samaritan in serving her neighbor, the Lord Jesus?
And is Mary not keeping the first and greatest commandment in loving the same Lord above all else and listening to His Word?
The home of Mary and Martha is the house of faith and love, the holy Christian Church — to which the Lord Jesus comes with His beautiful feet, shod with the Gospel of Peace. There it is that He is given and received by mouth and ears, with hands and heart.
Martha labors while Mary listens. There is a time and a place, a reason and a purpose for both activities. These two sisters dwell together in one house and have one Lord whom they worship and serve by faith and love. But dear Mary, here in this case, has the better part. For she listens and receives in faith. And, for all of that, she also loves much, because she is forgiven much, and because she lives by the Lord’s gracious Word and loving Service.
All of Martha’s labors depend upon the same Divine Service as Mary’s listening, and her labors serve the same Divine Service for the sake of faith, both her own and her sister’s. That is the true point and purpose of all Christian service, which hangs upon and returns to the Service of Christ.
Martha’s labors of love depend upon the Lord’s. Her service depends upon His Service. Her words and works depend upon His Word of grace and His works of mercy and peace. Her faith depends upon His faith and faithfulness, upon His preaching of forgiveness and free gift of life.
The same is true for you — as it was for Mary, too, who gladly listened to the Lord Jesus and so received the gifts He freely gave her.
If you strive to labor for your own life, as though your life depended on your own works and accomplishments, then you will never cease being worried and burdened by so many things, which you cannot bear and never will be able to bear.
Therefore, do not labor as though to achieve life for yourself, nor as though to gain your Lord and keep Him by your efforts. But, as He has come to you in love, and as He comes to you still — as you have received Him, and as you do and shall receive Him, by His grace through faith in His Word — so, then, labor to extend His grace, mercy, and peace to your sisters and your brothers.
Do not suppose that you should not work, but do the work that God has given you to do. Do not imagine that being justified by faith means that a Christian does nothing at all or has no job to do.
To be sure, the Lord has not called you to labor for your righteousness, life, and salvation. But neither has He called you to laziness or negligence. Neither idolatry nor idleness belongs to your Christian vocation. Rather, six days shall you work, and the Seventh is your Sabbath Rest in Christ, sanctified for you by the Word of God and prayer. Then leisure serves listening, and rest serves receiving, as the Lord your God speaks to you and provides for you all that is needed.
That is the purpose unto which you labor throughout the week, whatever your particular job and responsibilities may be, that you, your family, and your neighbors may rest in the Peace of Christ, in the preaching of His Gospel, in the eating of the Lord’s Supper at the Lord’s Table in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day. That is to say, all your energy and effort derive from the strength and service you receive from that Holy Supper. And then, by the same strength and service, you return again, in faith and love — along with your neighbor and your kin — to that Table of Christ Jesus.
Whether you cook or clean, sew or sell, teach or toil, write or read, or whatever you are given to do within your particular stations in life, it is all for the provision and support of that one thing which is truly needed, and a sacrifice of thanksgiving for that same free gift of God in Christ Jesus. Everything aims at the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness and at the administration of His life and His salvation in His Liturgy. Consider that each day, no matter what your job may be.
That is how Father Abraham’s household and family live, and so also his daughters and his sons. Like Mary and Martha, you receive the Lord Jesus, and you welcome Him into your home. And then your house becomes an Emmaus, where the Lord is your Host, your Waiter, and your Meal.
It is here at His Altar that you are at home with Him. As you sit here at His feet and recline here at His Table, you are the Lord’s Body and His Bride, because you receive the Lord’s Body and drink His Blood. And you, in turn, serve the Lord in His Body — no less so than the ministers of Christ serve His Church — by loving and serving your neighbor in body and soul; by providing shelter and clothing, food and drink, medicine and care, and a place of safety, comfort, and rest.
So, then, faith does not labor, but love does not rest. Faith receives and trusts what Jesus says and gives by grace. And love is always working so that faith may have peace and rest in that gracious Sabbath of the Lord Jesus, even in the midst of hardship. Which is to say that love is always working for the neighbor, so that the neighbor may rest in Christ Jesus by faith in His Gospel.
And it is one and the same Lord Jesus Christ who is actively present and at work in both faith and love, both for you and for your neighbor.
Father Abraham and Sister Martha welcome Him, receive Him, and serve Him with their loving hospitality. But faithful Mary and even incredulous Sarah receive Him, as well, and they are served by His Word and His promise of salvation.
To each and all of them, and so also to and for you, whom the Lord has called and gathered to Himself by the preaching of His Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Son of promise has indeed been given, who is the One Thing truly needed, which shall not be taken away from you.
Father Abraham washes His feet, and Sister Mary sits at His feet to listen to His preaching and teaching; and there she also anoints His feet with oil — for, yes, this is that very same Mary.
You also may wash the feet of Jesus and anoint them with oil, by loving His servants, His sisters and brothers, who serve you. And there at His feet, beloved of the Lord, hear and heed His Word. Listen to His preaching, and learn from His teaching. Receive His hospitality. Rest in His sure and certain promises. Be at peace, and live in His love. For here, with Him, you are at home.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.