Guess Who's Serving Dinner?
In the 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" a white family is shocked when their daughter brings home a black man. The dinner takes on a whole new meaning. A shift in meaning happens as our texts confronts us with the question, Guess who's serving dinner?
Martha appears to be, doesn't she? It's her home; the text says, "A woman named Martha opened her home to Jesus." The Greek grammar lets us know that Mary too welcomed Jesus; Jesus was her guest as well as Mary's. When someone is your guest, when you "open your home" to someone, you're the host; you're the one who serves; you're responsible for your guest. And Jesus certainly seems to be the guest. It's not His home. His home is 80 miles away in Capernaum. So far I've not mentioned worrying; I've not said anything about Martha being anxious and troubled about many things; I've not pointed out what you all know: this text is about worrying. Well don't get ahead of me. Just ponder the fact that as the text unfolds Jesus appears to be the guest; Martha, and Mary too, appear to be hostesses. They appear to be the ones responsible.
With this view of things, Martha is right and Mary is wrong. When you have company coming a lot needs doing: Food to prepare, places to set, things to clean. These things don't happen by themselves, do they? If Jesus is the guest and Martha and Mary are the hostesses, than Mary is wrong and Martha right! Isn't that how things appear? See Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. See Martha zipping through the room this way to get linens, that way to make rolls; this way to set plates. As she goes, she shoots dirty looks at her sister. But Mary is oblivious. So Martha does what we do when we're ticked off and no one is paying attention to us. She rattles the dishes, sets a pan down heavily, shoves the table out of the way loudly. But Mary doesn't move; doesn't offer to help. Finally, Martha can take it no more. Suddenly she comes up to Jesus. She's certain Jesus agrees with her. She asks the question in a way that expects a "yes" answer. "Lord, you care don't you that my sister left me all alone to do the serving?" Jesus must agree with her because in her mind Mary is not fulfilling her duties as hostess.
Can you see why worry is such a besetting sin? Like Martha, you would feel irresponsible, guilty, if you did not worry about the things you do. I mean if you don't worry about your kids who would look after them? Do house notes pay themselves? What if your body is a ticking bomb of cancer or heart disease? Whose plate is that on if not yours? Can you see why we can't break off this sin of worry? How can Martha sit down at the feet of Jesus with Mary if she sees them as hostesses? The rolls would burn; the table wouldn't be set; there would be no meal. So, in our view, worry simply goes with the territory we're responsible for. It's not an abstract sin that pops into our heart. It's tied to definite things. It's tied to a particular order of things...but what if we're wrong about the order?
In our text, Martha is wrong about who is the guest and who is the servant. The Greek emphasizes this. It says Jesus is on a journey; that means He is going to a particular place. His destination is Jerusalem, but He sends His disciples there while He turns off to go to Mary and Martha's house. And the Greek doesn't say Martha opened her home but she received Jesus. Jesus made the first move. When Jesus comes into a home, it's no different than when He came into the world. He doesn't come to be served but to serve. He doesn't come to add burdens but to lighten them. He doesn't come to take but to give, to teach not to learn, to feed not to eat. The situation is the opposite of what Martha assumed. Jesus came to be the host; Jesus came to serve. Jesus wasn't coming to increase worry and trouble any more than He came to increase sin and guilt.
Have you ever seen a fold over picture from Mad magazine? They appear to be one thing, but when folded along the dotted lines a totally different picture is visible. Do you see what happens when you "fold" this text? Where do worry and trouble go if Jesus is the host? Now you see Jesus seated and Martha on her feet scurrying to do all the things that need doing. Fold it. Martha is now seated; Jesus is serving, and all those things she had to do disappear.
Isn't that what happened in the parable last week? You begin thinking it's about you being a Good Samaritan but end up seeing yourself as the man robbed, beaten, and helpless and Jesus as the perfect Samaritan. Can you see how worrying flips when we see Jesus as the host and us as guests? Martha's worry is out of place, uncalled for if Jesus isn't there to get anything but to give everything. I mean you don't go to Olive Garden and worry about the meal, the guests, the preparations. No, you're not there to serve but to be served, not to give but to get. Likewise, our worry becomes out of place when we fold the picture and see that Jesus doesn't look to us to work things out for us or Him. Those things like bills, sickness, child, work, world problems disappear from the picture when we see the Lord of all creation serving us.
Read your Old Testament. How many times did the Lord say to His people when they faced insurmountable odds, "Stand still and see the salvation of your God?" He didn't say, "Get out there and do your best!" Nope. He says, "It's not your problem but Mine." Read your New Testament: 5 times in 10 verses of Matthew 6 Jesus says, "Don't continue to worry." Worry and anxiety drive us to activity like Martha's, this way, that way, running on empty, in a hurry to get things done. But our real strength is in passivity, in returning to the Lord who serves us, in resting in His arms; our help is in the name of the Lord not in our own name. Isaiah 30 promises, "In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (15).
Our Lutheran Confessions sound this same note saying that the highest service of God is faith (AC, XXI,3; AP, IV, 154, 310). But you hear the word service and mistakenly think, "I do something." No, saying that the highest service of God is faith is referring to John 6 where the crowds asked, "What shall we do to do the works of God?" And Jesus replies, "Believe on Him whom He sent." You serve God by joyfully receiving the gifts He gives. Faith is not a doing but a receiving.
It's at the point of faith that we get confused. We know worry is an activity, so we think we stop worrying by start believing. As worry mounts in our hearts driving us to do this, think that, try this, we try to make faith increase in our hearts to drive the worry out. Faith loses every time. Why? Because it's something we're trying to do. Faith becomes just another activity we try to keep worry at bay. Martha tied to keep worry at bay by working hard and when that failed she tried having Jesus make Mary start to work too. Jesus responded by saying, "In all your doing, you've missed the one thing needful, and that would be Me."
Jesus comes into our homes to give what He won for us with His perfect life and guilty death: rebirth by Baptism, forgiveness by absolution, His Body for bread and His Blood for wine. Jesus comes not only with heavenly fare but with everything we need to support this body and life. He comes to give rest not burdens. He comes to wait on us not for us to wait on Him. Faith receives Jesus and His gifts. Worry says, "No thanks I'm busy." Faith falls down and says to Jesus, "You're going to have to do it all because I can't do anything." Worry says, "I'll do my best Jesus; sit down and let me serve You." Jesus says, "I'll do it all. I'll do the forgiving, the feeding, the caring, the working." Faith says, "Amen." Worry says, "I'll do my part."
The only way to see the Gospel in this story is to see who serves whom. If you don't see that Jesus is the host and you're the guest, then you see the burden upon your shoulders not His. O Jesus does His part serving you with Word and Sacraments, but you're still responsible for the overall situation. No, the whole picture needs to flip. When Jesus comes into your life He comes to bear your griefs and carry your sorrows; He comes to fight your fights and win your battles; He comes to set your table not with just His Body and Blood for your soul but with daily bread for your body.
Flip the picture in your mind. Fold it so Jesus is the host and you're the guest. Then you can rightly hear all those passages about not worrying. They're not commands from the Master to you the servant telling you one more thing to do. No, they are revelations from the Lord who is your Host about all the areas of your life He is responsible for. Jesus comes into you house as the Host saying, "You don't have to worry about your life, not about what you eat, not about what you drink, not about what you'll wear. In fact, you don't have to worry about tomorrow at all; I don't care what's coming up. You're My guest, even in your home, so those things are my problem not yours."
Guess who's serving dinner? Not you but Jesus. You can be Mary without a care in the world because it's impolite to give a guest worries. No earthly host does that, do they? Certainly no heavenly Host does. Whatever the worry troubling you right now - give it back. When we won't do that, we think we're being responsible but we're really being arrogant. That's what 1 Peter 5 says, "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God." How? Peter goes on to tell: "By casting your worries," the very word for what Martha has, "upon God." Why? "Because", Peter finishes, "He cares' for you." "Cares" is the word Martha used when she said, "Lord you do care." Martha was right. He did care. She is no more to have a worry than a guest is to have a serving tray. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (20190811); Luke 10: 38-42