June 9, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
In Luke 10:34-42, we see Jesus welcoming Mary as one of his disciples. Though male rabbis almost never taught women, Jesus was glad to include one who would ordinarily have been excluded. The example of Jesus makes me wonder: Who are the people we need to welcome, the people who have been or who have felt excluded by us and our tribe? Do we follow Jesus in welcoming those who aren’t like us? Or who don’t “believe the right things”? Or who differ from us in the color of their skin, their politics, their country of origin, their language, their lifestyle, or their socio-economic status? To whom is God calling us to reach out and say: “You are welcome here”?
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began reflecting on Luke 10:38-42, a passage featuring Jesus and his friends, Martha and Mary. I tried to show how Martha’s intention to welcome Jesus into her home was honorable. Yes, she did get things a little skewed, as we’ll see later, but Martha’s desire to welcome Jesus and his retinue is surely something laudable. Moreover, her example encourages us to welcome Jesus into our own lives as well as to extend hospitality to others.
Returning to our story, as Martha was welcoming Jesus and his crew, Luke says, “She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying” (Luke 10:39). As we read this, we may not find it particularly notable. But if we were part of Jesus’s first-century Jewish culture, this would be a shocking scene. Why? Because Mary was openly breaking the rules, right in front of Jesus, no less.
What rules? First of all, Mary was breaking the cultural rule that said the women of the household were responsible for providing hospitality for guests. According to what people in first-century culture expected, Mary should have been helping her sister with the preparations for the guests, not sitting at the feet of the visiting rabbi and listening to his teaching.
Second, and even more shockingly, Mary was breaking gender rules that limited the education of women. Almost without exception, Jewish teachers in the first century were men, and they did not teach women. Period. Women were generally excluded even from learning Torah (the Jewish law). Many Jews believed that it was wrong for men even to speak with women. Yet Mary was sitting there in plain sight, right at Jesus’s feet, learning from him. It’s worth noting, by the way, that, in the Gospel of Luke learning is an essential element of discipleship. Mary was putting herself in the position of a disciple of Jesus. How scandalous!
But what’s even more scandalous here is Jesus’s response. He permitted Mary to sit at his feet and learn. He didn’t tell her to get into the kitchen and help Martha. Instead, he taught her. He included her. He honored her. He welcomed her. If Mary was breaking gender rules, Jesus was shattering them in an egregious way. Of course, this was consistent with his behavior elsewhere in Luke, where Jesus taught women, included them among his followers, honored them in his teaching, and even allowed them to travel with him and support him financially (see Luke 8:1-3).
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus welcoming people who were culturally unwelcome. In addition to teaching women, he touched lepers, embraced children, spoke with Samaritans, healed Roman servants, and hung out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus preached the good news of God’s reign, in which those who had been excluded would be not just included but welcomed with God’s open arms.
As I reflect on this story in Luke, I find myself challenged to be more like Jesus, to express love by offering hospitality to people, especially to those who are often ignored or excluded. It’s no accident that our story about Martha and Mary comes right after Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable calls us to love sacrificially, beyond safety and cultural barriers. Ultimately, Jesus welcomes us by giving his life for us, offering us the fullness of life through his sacrifice. And that is a model for us to follow. Romans 15:7 puts it clearly: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.”
I wonder, who are the people we need to welcome, the people who have been or who have felt excluded by us and our tribe? Do we follow Jesus in welcoming those who aren’t like us? Or who don’t “believe the right things”? Or who differ from us in the color of their skin, their politics, their country of origin, their language, their lifestyle, or their socio-economic status? To whom is God calling us to reach out and say: “You are welcome here”?
Have you ever felt excluded by some group? Why do you think you were excluded? How did it feel?
How likely are you to welcome people who are different from you? Or with whom you have theological or political disagreements?
Can you think of a time in your life when you welcomed someone who made you uncomfortable? If so, what was that like for you?
What helps you move outside of your comfort zone by welcoming those whom you would not be naturally inclined to welcome?
Ask the Lord to show you how you might welcome someone you would ordinarily overlook or ignore. Then, reach out to that person with the welcome of Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you for this short story in Luke. I’m so glad he included it in his Gospel.
Thank you for welcoming Mary as you taught, for affirming her and including her. Thank you for demonstrating the importance of educating all people, even when that requires breaking down cultural walls of exclusion.
Lord, I want to be like you. So help me, I pray, to know how I can welcome people in your name, especially those who have been excluded in the past. May your ethos of welcome permeate my life, also my family, my workplace, my church, and my community. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Grief
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.