Does the Lord Care?
You think you know what this familiar text is about. You might even have gotten that idea from me in the Luke Bible class. You think this text is about worry, but it's not. It's about care, and not so much our caring but the Lord's caring. Doesn't the plaintive plea of Martha jump out at you? "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?"
The Lord certainly didn't seem to care in our text, did He? Poor Martha was trying to take care of the many preparations that were necessary if the Lord was going to eat a meal with them. And there Mary sat beside Jesus' feet doing nothing, not talking, not asking questions, and certainly not making preparations. Martha gave Mary, and Jesus too, many "hints" that the many preparations were being unfairly left to her. She shot Mary looks that could kill. She sighed and groaned and clanked dishes down heavily. But Jesus did nothing, said nothing. Apparently, Jesus just didn't care.
You know there are things in my life, and there are probably things in your's too, that must be done, yet Jesus doesn't seem to care enough to give me help to do them. These things must be done just like there were preparations that had to take place if anyone was going to eat in Martha's house. There are many details of living that must be seen to. I'm talking about plain ordinary things like: shopping, banking, washing the car, changing the oil, cleaning the garage, watering the grass. I know they don't seem that big, but if life is going to have any sort of order they must get done. And it would be so easy for Jesus to help me get the many thing done in my life that need doing. Yet, I'm frustrated at every turn. I get interrupted, things break, there is no one to help.
Look, I'm not trying to do something illegal. I'm not even trying to do something for my benefit. It's for others. I'm just like Martha and her meal. The things I'm doing are for others. They will get as much benefit from them as I will. But nothing works like it's suppose to, and no one helps me like they should, and worst of all, Jesus just doesn't seem to care.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that what I'm bellyaching about is not that big of a deal. "Do the shopping another day; bank tomorrow. Wash the car next week; pay someone to change the oil. You're making a mountain out of a molehill." Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Martha should have just taken a chill pill. What's the big deal if dinner is late? Why not eat leftovers off of paper plates? Why not order out for pizza?
You see you can do that to anyone. You can easily make a molehill out of what someone else has made a mountain. That's how some of you think you address the problem of worry. You think you address it by reasoning your way through it. Show that the mountain I'm concerned about is really only a molehill. Go ahead and try that for yourself. Don't use the day to day things I'm all worked up about; use the day to day things you are. Perhaps you're stronger than Martha and I. Maybe company and car care are no big deal to you, but something is. Something gets your tail in a knot; maybe it's sickness, family troubles, money problems. Whatever it is try to reason your worries away while looking at a Jesus that doesn't seem to care. I guarantee you; whatever has you agitated with concern it is a simple matter for Jesus to take care of. Yet, He doesn't do anything, and He apparently doesn't care.
Yet, you know He DOES care, don't you? Martha did too. Her question in Greek shows that she expects a 'yes' answer, and therefore it can rightly be translated: "Lord, surely you DO care that my sister has left me alone to serve? Therefore, tell her to help me!" This is where the agitation for the Christian really comes in. Jesus does care. Scripture tells us this plainly. He cares for us more than the flowers of the fields He clothes so beautifully and the birds of the air He feeds so faithfully. He cares for us as we care and protect the pupils of our eyes. In 1 Peter 5:7 we're told plainly, "He cares for you." In the next chapter in Luke, Jesus will tell us that He cares more for us than any earthly father ever has or can care for his child.
The more you realize the length, breathe, and depth of your Lord's care for you, the harder it is it come to terms with His apparent lack of care. If the Lord keeps track of the number of hairs on my head, then certainly He must care for those things that make me feel like I want to pull my hair out? If the Lord, as the Psalm says, keeps my tears in a bottle and writes down why each one of them falls, then certainly He cares about those things, even those petty daily things, that can get me so frustrated that I just want to cry. "Lord, surely you DO care about me, don't you? Therefore, just say the word and fix this or that thing in my life that has me so upset and bothered."
It gets worse. The matter of how greatly our Lord cares for us only gets heavier and more intense. I asked the Lord how much He cared for me, how much He loved me, and you know what He said? Nothing. Not one single word at first, but then He spread out His arms on the cross and shouted, "This much" over the heavy pounding of a wooden hammer on an iron nail. Now what am I to make of this? What do I make of a Lord who loved me enough to die in my place? What do I make of a God who spared not His own Son but freely gave Him up for Me? Surely the God who suffered and died for my sins, loves and cares for sinners? Surely the God who took my place on the cursed cross doesn't stop caring for me once He's risen from the dead? Wouldn't He care even more for me now having done all that?
If the Lord's apparent lack of concern for you, doesn't get to you, then you just don't know how thoroughly you've been redeemed. You don't know how clean your Baptism has washed you if you don't get the feeling that sometimes Jesus is treating you like dirt. You don't know how completely absolution has sent your sins away from you if Jesus' apparent lack of care doesn't seem like He is unfairly remembering your sins. And you don't know how completely Communion has 'bodied and blooded' you to Christ if it doesn't appear that Jesus is forgetting His own flesh and blood when He apparently leaves you out in the cold.
At this point, a sermon on this text usually goes to the fact that while the things that Martha was concerned about where not wrong, they were just not as important as the one thing needful that Mary had chosen to be concerned about. But that misses the point of what Martha finally ended up concerned with, not so much what she had to do but the fact that the Jesus whom she knew cared so very much for her, didn't seem to care now. But He did, and He cares for us too, but He cares differently than we think.
We think Jesus should care about what we care about. That's what Martha says to Him. But how does Jesus respond? With a tender, "Martha, Martha." You can see Jesus gently shaking His head back and forth, and hear the care in His voice, can't you? Well, hear it for you. Don't just hear Martha's name being spoken but hear you own. When we get so agitated by our cares, when we come to the point of wondering where the care of our caring Lord is, rather than lash out at us and say, "How dare you question My love for you?" Jesus says, "Paul, Paul." The only thing Jesus didn't care for in our text is for Martha to be anxious and troubled about serving Him.
Think about it. When you are anxious and troubled about day to day tasks, isn't the thought of how wretched of a sinner you are somewhere there in the back of your mind? Yes, yes, it's not only or even primarily in the major things of life that the Christian feels he lets Jesus down, it's in the day to day tasks. Particularly when we want to do a good job. When we want to our best for Him. Then every little thing that gets in our way, that prevents our plans from going like they should, seems to highlight what a failure we are as Christian mothers, fathers, children, students, employees, Church members or people. Doesn't Jesus understand that we just want to serve Him? Why does He make it so difficult? Why won't He help us?
But Jesus is as least as loving and caring as a sinful parent. Every parent has found a child upset because their present didn't turn out the way they wanted. The child will be on the verge of tears because the card or picture or present they wanted to give their parent is ruined by a scratch here, a mark there. And when the parent finds out, he or she goes ballistic and says what a rotten kid they are; they should've been more careful. A sinful parent could do that, but even we usually say, "Child, child, you don't need to be anxious and troubled by the gifts you give to me. I didn't bring you into this world to for my benefit but for yours. I like everything you make for Me just as it is."
Isn't that exactly what Jesus means when He tells us, "The Son of Man didn't come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom." Why did Jesus show up at Martha's house? He came there so she might have the one thing needful. He came with no other intention than serving her with the gifts of everlasting life. Martha, and Mary too, are like Zechariah the tax collector, Jesus specifically comes to their house. This is a big deal, but Jesus doesn't do this to get things from them but to give things to them.
Jesus cared so much for Martha to have the one thing needful that He directed His ministry to her personally. He came under her roof not to be served but to serve. Your Jesus comes to you today in Water, Words, Bread and Wine for your benefit. He is far more concerned with what He can do for you through these Means of Grace than He is concerned about what you can do for Him. He doesn't care to see you all agitated and concerned because your life doesn't go smoothly (What sinner's life ever did?). He cares that you find your life is innocent, blessed, and righteous in His life. Though your day to day plans continually are upset and are never a picture perfect offering to your Lord Jesus, He receives them in, with, and under the Body and Blood He gives and sheds for you, and so He is as pleased as can be.
But there is more. There is even more Gospel in this text. Jesus tells Martha, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." You know what that says? The one thing needful: forgiveness, life and salvation which Jesus wants Martha to have will never be taken from her, but her worry and agitation will be. Friends, this anxiety and upsetness that seem to be our constant companions in this fallen world will not be with us always. Through faith in what Jesus does and promises we are relieved of them now, but as you know they always come back. But one day, when faith gives way to sight and promise gives way to full possession, none of us will know anything of the worry and cares we know so well now.
That will be then, what about now? The text ends with Jesus telling Martha He doesn't want her concerned with His care, and that He cares for her far more and better than she knows. Does Martha give a sigh of relief and sit down next to Mary to receive the great gifts coming out of Jesus' mouth? Or does Martha only hear what Jesus says in passing and continue with her many preparations? The text doesn't tell us, because the Holy Spirit is not concerned with what Martha does, but with what we do. Will we be cared for by Jesus? Fed, kept, and blessed by the one thing needful from here to eternity? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IX (8-5-01) Luke 10:38-42