Luke 10:38–42 38As they went on their way, Jesus came into a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at the Lord’s feet and was listening to his word. 40But Martha was distracted with all her serving. She came over and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.”
41The Lord answered and told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42but one thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
It was the evening of October 27, 312 A.D. Constantine was going into battle the next day against Maxentius. It is called The Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which was an important route over the Tiber, the third-longest river in Italy. The battle would determine whether Constantine or Maxentius would be the Emperor.
According to two contemporary historians of that time, Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius, the battle marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Constantine’s parents had been Christians, but Constantine himself was a pagan. Before the battle, he decided that he should do what all rulers do before a battle – he should pray.
Constantine decided to pray to his father’s Christina God, which was the true God.
The accounts of Eusebius and Lactantius are not entirely consistent but have been merged into the popular account of Constantine receiving a vision from the Lord while he was praying. In the vision, Constantine saw a symbol in the heavens and the Greek words “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” – “In this sign, conquer” written in the sky. Eusebius records that Constantine’s entire army saw this vision.
That night, Christ appeared to Constantine in a dream and told him to make a replica of the sign he had seen in the sky. He was to put this symbol upon the shields of all his soldiers.
This event was said to spur Constantine on to deeper studies in the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit later converted Constantine to Christianity.
The symbol that Constantine had painted on his soldiers’ shields is the Chi Rho. The Greek letter Chi is written with an English capital X. The letter Rho is like the English capital P. The Chi Rho is created by superimposing the first two letters (XP) of Christ’s name in Greek ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ.
Archeologists have found the Chi Rho on coins, medallions, lamps, pottery pieces and on grave inscriptions. It was carved into the pavement in front of a store or painted on the doorpost of a home to communicate that this was a Christian business or home. The Chi Rho occurs in various forms in the catacombs, the underground burial places where worship was often held out of sight of the pagans.
The Chi Rho sometimes appears together with the Alpha and Omega to affirm that Christ is the beginning and the end. The heavenly Christ proclaims: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6).
Members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) recognize the Chi Rho as the symbol that adorns the front of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal.
The Chi Rho reminds us that Christ is to be the focus and center of our lives. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
The Chi Rho was painted on the shields of Constantine’s soldiers. Christ put the Chi Rho on Constantine’s heart when the Holy Spirit later converted the Emperor to Christianity. We see in the story of Mary and Martha that Christ wanted to put his Chi Rho upon the hearts of these two sisters.
Jesus was the family friend of Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. The family lived in the village of Bethany, which was a short walk from Jerusalem. One day, Jesus stopped by Martha’ home (Luke 10:38). I imagine that Martha was excited to see Jesus. I imagine that she wasn’t quite so excited to see Jesus’ twelve disciples standing behind him.
The sisters would have done what was natural – they would have started preparing a feast for their guests.
I imagine Mary and Martha were busy in the kitchen. They had to heat up the oven to make fresh bread. They needed to roast the lamb, pull out the jams and jellies, the fruits and dates, and make a special pie for dessert.
It was getting hot in the kitchen. Martha wiped the sweat from her eyes and looked around. No Mary. She peered through the kitchen doorway. She saw her sister sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to Jesus tell stories (Luke 10:29). Now she wasn’t just hot. She was steaming!
Martha marched from the kitchen to the family room. She was mad at Mary but notice whom she yells at. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).
Martha had gotten her priorities all mixed up. She wanted to serve Jesus. But Jesus had come to Martha’s house to serve her. It was good that she stressed a clean house and good food. But stressing all those good things only made her stressed out. She was all tired and worn out, but Jesus had come to her home to give her rest. It was good that she was busy, but it would have been better if she would have been about the business of Jesus – which is sitting and listening to him speak to her.
Jesus scolded Martha for her attitude. But I imagine he did it gently, as only Jesus could. I imagine Jesus holding Mary’s hand in hers. He breathed a deep sigh and said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
I read the story of Mary and Martha to our homebound members in my shut-in visits this week. As soon as I finished the story, one of the ladies commented, “I’ve always felt sorry for Martha.”
I understand that sentiment. That’s because so many of us are Martha’s. We are hard-working people. We get things done. We are busy. We want to serve our Lord so badly.
We try to be good parents by getting our kids involved in athletics, after-school activities and taking them on vacation. But we become so busy that we don’t have time to sit down around the dining room table for a family meal, or to read a Bible story to our children as we tuck them in bed each night. We are so busy giving our children athletic and education training that we neglect to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
We know Jesus expects us to provide for our families with food and a home. So one or both parents work long hours and even work overtime so we can be good providers. We become so focused on providing our family with necessary things that we ignore giving them the one thing needful – which is Jesus. We omit consistently bringing our family to Jesus’ house in our home church to sit at Jesus’ feet so he can feed them with his words.
We serve the Lord and our fellow members by being involved in various church and school groups, or serving as leaders of various boards and committees, or helping out in a classroom or cleaning up after a Lenten supper. Those things are all great and necessary. But they aren’t as great or as necessary as being in worship to hear God’s Word, or receive his absolution, or taste his Sacrament, or sing his praises.
St. Luke tells us that “Martha was distracted with all her serving” (Luke 10:40). We become distracted by the good things that we neglect the necessary thing – Jesus.
We wish to serve Jesus, which is great! It is very Martha-like. But Jesus wishes to serve you! Which is what He did for Mary.
Jesus wants us to give to him … but only after he has given us his Word and Sacraments.
Jesus calls us to serve him … but only after he has served us and given his life as a ransom (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus appoints us to carry a cross for him … but only after he has carried his cross, loaded with all our guilt, sins and stains.
Jesus wants to us to invite him into our homes as our guest … but, more importantly, he invites us into his home to be his guests. He is both Host and Meal. He lays downs his life as a sacrifice for sinful humanity, to offer himself up for the life of the world, to be the Bread of Life and the wine from heaven to bring refreshment, forgiveness, life and salvation.
We know all this, yet we still find ourselves being Marthas. Busy with so many important things that we have no time for the most important thing – Jesus. So busy we have no time to hear Jesus’ word or receive his body and blood. Distracted by this, that, and the other thing. Feeding our face. Feeding our bank account. Feeding our ego. When all Jesus wants to do is feed our faith with his Word. Feed our soul with his Sacraments. Feed us with his forgiveness.
We are so busy being about our business that we forget that Jesus’ business is us. Jesus desires us to sit at his feet and simply receive everything he has to offer.
We need to repent of our busyness. We’ve let many things get ahead of the one important thing. We’ve let many things get between us and Jesus. The symptoms are all there. Frustration, anger, complaining and griping. When you sense that in yourself, read the symptoms of busyness and hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Just be quiet for a while and listen. I know it’s hard to do, because we are tuned to being busy. The way of our world is Martha, not Mary. Be about the business of Jesus. Jesus’ business is easy. All it takes is sitting and listening. That’s it. Jesus is here to give to you. He wants to spend time with you. There’s plenty of opportunity to serve, but what good is our service if it simply burns us out on the Lord and on each other?
You find real pleasure, not in reading the newspaper, but in reading God’s Word. You find real relaxation, not in a camping trip with a flowing river, but in a trip to God’s altar where his forgiveness flows freely. You find real refreshment, not in some drinks after a hard day’s work, but in Christ’s body and blood after a hard week’s work. You find cleanliness, not in taking a hot shower after a tough workout, but in the Spirit’s baptismal waters washing over you. You find joy, not in pleasing God, but in knowing that through Jesus you are pleasing to God.
You find frustration in doing, but you will find rest in receiving from Jesus. You find it exhausting to always be loving to others, but you will find it exhilarating to always being loved by God. You find fatigue by always being on the go, but you will find peace by slowing down and re-prioritizing your week so that you always begin and end with Jesus – the one thing needful.
Jesus had put his Chi Rho on Emperor Constantine’s heart at his conversion to Christianity. Jesus put his Chi Rho on Mary’s heart as she sat at his feet and he strengthened her faith. Jesus was waiting for Martha to sit down next to her sister so he could put his Chi Rho upon her heart, too.
St. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened after Jesus scolded Martha. I like to imagine Mary and Martha went back into the kitchen, put out the flame in the stove, and put the half-baked bread on the counter. Then both sisters went to sit on the floor at Jesus’ feet.
When Jesus had finished teaching, then I imagine Mary and Martha went into the kitchen to pull out the day-old bread and dried fish to serve to Jesus and his disciples. And Jesus was fine with that.
For all of us Marthas, we need to learn to be like Mary. There are so many good things that occupy us. But there is only one thing that is needful, necessary and indispensable. That one thing is sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. Let him put his Chi Rho upon your heart. He has claimed you as his own. He is your priority because he has made you his priority. The Chi Rho reminds us: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Amen.