MARTHA AND MARY
We may read long enough ere we find Christ in a house of His own. “The foxes have holes, and the birds have nests :” He that had all, possessed nothing. One while I see Him in a publican’s house, then in a Pharisee’s; now I find Him at Martha’s. His last entertainment was with some neglect, this with too much solicitude. Our Saviour was now in His way; the sun might as soon stand still as He.
The more we move, the more like we are to heaven, and to this God that made it. His progress was to Jerusalem, for some holy feast. He, whose devotion neglected not any of those sacred solemnities, will not neglect the due opportunities of His bodily refreshing :
as not thinking it meet to travel and preach harbourless. He diverts (where He knew His welcome) to the village of Bethany. There dwelt the two devout sisters, with their brother, His friend Lazarus : their roof receives Him. O happy house, into which the Son of God vouchsafed to set His foot! O blessed women, that had the grace to be the hostesses to the God of heaven ! How should I envy your felicity herein, if I did not see the same favour, if I be not wanting to myself, lying open to me ! I have two ways to entertain my Saviour; in His members, and in Himself: in His members, by charity and hospitableness : “What I do to one of these His little ones, I do to Him;” in Himself by faith : “If any man open, He will come in and sup with him.”
O Saviour, Thou standest at the door of our hearts, and knockest by the solicitations of Thy messengers, by the sense of Thy chastisements, by the motions of Thy Spirit: if we open to Thee by a willing admission and faithful welcome. Thou wilt be sure to take up our souls with Thy gracious presence, and not to sit with us for a momentary meal, but to dwell with us for ever. Lo ! Thou didst but call in at Bethany; but here shall be Thy rest for everlasting.
Martha, it seems, as being the eldest sister, bore the name of the housekeeper: Mary was her assistant in the charge. A blessed pair ! Sisters not more in nature than grace, in spirit no less than in flesh. How happy a thing is it when all the parties in a family are jointly agreed to entertain Christ!
No sooner is Jesus entered into the house, than He falls to preaching; that no time be lost. He stays not so much as till His meat be made ready, but, while His bodily repast was in hand, provides spiritual food for His hosts. It was His meat and drink to do the will of His Father: He fed more upon His own diet than He could possibly upon theirs; His best cheer was, to see them spiritually fed. How should we, whom He hath called to this sacred function, “be instant in season and out of season !” We are, by His sacred ordination, the lights of the world. No sooner is the candle lighted, than it gives that light which it hath, and never intermits till it be wasted to the snuff.
Both the sisters, for a time, sat attentively listening to the words, of Christ. Household occasions call Martha away; Mary sits still at
His feet, and hears. Whether shall we more praise her humility or her docility ? I do not see her take a stool and sit by Him, or a chair and sit above Him; but, as desiring to show her heart was as low as her knees, she sits at His feet. She was lowly set, richly warmed with those heavenly beams. The greater submission, the more grace. If there be one hollow in the valley lower than another, thither the waters gather.
Martha’s house is become a divinity school: Jesus, as the doctor, sits in the chair; Martha, Mary, and the rest, sit as disciples at His feet. Standing implies a readiness of motion; sitting, a settled composedness to this holy attendance.
Had these two sisters provided our Saviour never such delicates, and waited on His trencher never so officiously, yet, had they not listened to His instruction, they had not bidden Him welcome; neither had He so well liked His entertainment.
This was the way to feast Him; to feed their ears by His heavenly doctrine: His best cheer is our proficiency, our best cheer is His word. O Saviour, let my soul be thus feasted by Thee, do Thou thus feast Thyself by feeding me: this mutual diet shall be Thy praise and my happiness.
Though Martha was for the time an attentive hearer, yet now her care of Christ’s entertainment carries her into the kitchen; Mary sits still. Neither was Mary more devout than Martha busy: Martha cares to feast Jesus; Mary to be feasted of Him. There was more solicitude in Martha’s active part; more piety in Mary’s sedentary attendance: I know not in which more zeal. Good Martha was desirous to express her joy and thankfulness for the presence of so blessed a guest, by the actions of her careful and plenteous entertainment. I know not how to censure the holy woman for her excess of care to welcome her Saviour. Sure she herself thought she did well: and, out of that confidence, fears not to complain to Christ of her sister.
I do not see her come to her sister, and whisper in her ear the great need of her aid; but she comes to Jesus, and in a kind of unkind expostulation of her neglect, makes her moan to Him:
“Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone ?” Why did she not rather make her first address to her sister ? Was it for that she knew Mary was so tied by the ears with those adamantine chains that came from the mouth of Christ, that, until His silence and dismission, she had no power to stir ? Or was it out of an honour and respect to Christ, that, in His presence, she would not presume to call off her sister without His leave ?
Howsoever, I cannot excuse the holy woman from some weaknesses. It was a fault to measure her sister by herself, and, apprehending her own act to be good, to think her sister could not do well if she did not so too; whereas goodness hath much latitude. Ill is opposed to good, not good to good. Neither in things lawful nor indifferent are others bound to our examples. Mary might hear, Martha might serve, and both do well. Mary did not censure Martha for her rising from the feet of Christ to prepare His meal:
neither should Martha have censured Mary for sitting at Christ’s feet to feed her soul. It was a fault, that she thought an excessive care of a liberal outward entertainment of Christ was to be preferred to a diligent attention to Christ’s spiritual entertainment of them. It was a fault, that she durst presume to question our Saviour of some kind of unrespect to her toil: “Lord, dost thou not care ?” What sayest thou, Martha ? Dost thou challenge the Lord of heaven and earth of incogitancy and neglect ? Dost thou take upon thee to prescribe unto that infinite wisdom, instead of receiving directions from Him ? It is well thou mettest with a Saviour, whose gracious mildness knows how to pardon and pity the errors of our zeal.
Yet I must needs say, here wanted not fair pretences for the ground of this thy expostulation. Thou, the elder sister, workest;
Mary, the younger, sits still; and what work was thine but the hospitable receipt of thy Saviour and His train ? Had it been for thine own paunch, or for some carnal friends, it had been less excusable; now it was for Christ Himself, to whom thou couldst never be too obsequious.
But all this cannot deliver thee from the just blame of this bold question: “Lord, dost Thou not care?” How ready is our weakness, upon every slight discontentment, to quarrel with our best friend, yea, with our good God ! and the more we are put to it, to think ourselves the more neglected, and to challenge God for our neglect! Do we groan on the bed of our sickness, and, languishing in pain, complain of long hours and weary sides ? Straight we think. Lord, dost Thou not care that we suffer ? Doth God’s poor church go to wreck, while the ploughers, ploughing on her back, make long furrows ? “Lord, dost Thou not care ?” But know. O thou feeble and distrustful soul, the more thou dost, the more thou sufferest, the more thou art cared for: neither is God ever so tender over His church, as when it is most exercised. Every pang, and stitch, and gird is first felt of Him that sends it-O God, Thou knowest our works, and our labour, and our patience we may be ignorant and diffident. Thou canst not but be gracious.
It could not but trouble devout Mary to hear her sister’s impatient complaint: a complaint of herself to Christ, with such vehemence of passion, as if there had been such strangeness betwixt the two sisters, that the one would do nothing for the other, without an external compulsion from a superior. How can she choose but think, if I have offended, why was I not secretly taxed for it in a sisterly familiarity ? what if there had been some little omission ? must the whole house ring of it before my Lord, and all His disciples ? is this carriage beseeming a
sister ? is my devotion worthy of a quarrel ? Lord, dost Thou not care that I am injuriously censured ? Yet I hear not a word of reply from that modest mouth. O holy Mary, I admire thy patient silence: thy sister blames thee for thy piety; the disciples afterwards blame thee for thy bounty and cost: not a word falls from thee in a just vindication of thine honour and innocence, but, in a humble taciturnity, thou leavest
thine answer to thy Saviour. How should we learn of thee, when we are complained of for well-doing, to seal up our lips, and to expect our righting from above !
And how sure, how ready art thou, O Saviour, to speak in the cause of the dumb! “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part.”
What needed Mary to speak for herself, when she had such an advocate ? Doubtless, Martha was, as it were, divided from herself with the multiplicity of her careful thoughts: our Saviour therefore doubles her name in His compellation, that, in such distraction. He may both find and fix her heart. The good woman made full account, that Christ would have sent away her sister with a check, and herself with thanks; but now her hopes fail her;
and though she be not directly reproved, yet she hears her sister more approved than she: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.” Our Saviour received courtesy from her in her diligent and costly entertainment; yet He would not blanch her error, and smooth her up in her weak misbehaviour.
This glance towards a reproof implies an opposition of the condition of the two sisters: themselves were not more near in nature, than their present humour and estate differed. “Thou art careful and troubled about many things, one thing is necessary.” How far then may our care reach to these earthly things ? On the one side, O Saviour, Thou hast charged us to “take no thought what to eat, drink, put on;” on the other. Thy chosen vessel hath told us, that “he that provides not for his family hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” We may, we must, care for many things, so that our care be for good, and well; for good, both in kind and measure; well, so as our care be free from distraction, from distrust; from distraction, that it hinder us not from the necessary duties of our general calling; from distrust, that we misdoubt not God’s providence, while we employ our own. We cannot care for Thee, unless we thus care for ourselves, for ours.
Alas ! how much care do I see everywhere, but how few Marthas ! Her care was for her Saviour’s entertainment; ours for ourselves. One finds perplexities in his estate, which he desires to extricate; another beats his brains for the raising of his house:
one busies his thoughts about the doubtful condition, as he thinks, of the times, and casts in his anxious head the imaginary events of all things, opposing his hopes to his fears; another studies how to avoid the cross blows of an adversary. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.” Foolish men ! why do we set our hearts upon the rack, and need not ? why will we endure to bend under that burden, which more able shoulders have offered to undertake for our ease ?
Thou hast bidden us, O God, to cast our cares upon Thee, with promise to care for us. We do gladly unload ourselves upon Thee: O let our care be to depend upon Thee, as Thine is to provide for us.
Whether Martha be pitied or taxed for her sedulity, I am sure Mary is praised for her devotion: “One thing is necessary.” Not by way of negation, as if nothing were necessary but this; but by way of comparison, as that nothing is so necessary as this. Earthly occasions must vail to spiritual. Of those three main grounds of all our actions necessity, convenience, pleasure, each transcends other: convenience carries it away from pleasure, necessity from convenience, and one degree of necessity from another. The degrees are according to the conditions of the things necessary. The condition of these earthly necessaries is that without them we cannot live temporally; the condition of the spiritual, that without them we cannot live eternally. So much difference, then, as there is betwixt temporary and eternal, so much there must needs be betwixt the necessity of these bodily actions and these spiritual: both are necessary in their kinds; neither must here be an opposition, but a subordination. The body and soul must be friends, not rivals; we may not so ply the Christian, that we neglect the man.
O the vanity of those men, who, neglecting that one thing necessary, affect many things superfluous ! Nothing is needless with worldly minds but this one, which only is necessary, the care of their souls. How justly do they lose that they cared not for, while they over-care for that which is neither worthy nor possible to be kept!
Neither is Mary’s business more allowed than herself: “She hath chosen the good part.” It was not forced upon her, but taken up by her election. Martha might have sat still as well as she:
she might have stirred about as well as Martha. Mary’s will made this choice, not without the inclination of Him who both gave this will, and commends it. That will was before renewed: no marvel if it choose the good; though this were not in a case of good and evil, but of good and better. We have still this holy freedom, through the in-working of Him that hath freed us. Happy are we, if we can improve this liberty to the best advantage of our souls.
The stability or perpetuity of good, adds much to the praise of it. Martha’s part was soon gone; the thank and use of a little outward hospitality cannot long last: “but Mary’s shall not be taken away from her.” The act of her hearing was transient, the fruit permanent; she now hears that which shall stick by her for ever.
What couldst thou hear, O holy Mary, from those sacred lips, which we hear not still ? that heavenly doctrine is always the same, no more subject to change than the Author of it. It is not impossible that the exercise of the gospel should be taken from us; but the benefit and virtue of it is as inseparable from our souls as their being. In the hardest times that shall stick closest to us, and till death, in death, after death, shall make us happy.