Let us be clear. The people listening to your sermon on this text are already sitting at Jesus’ feet. They are not in the kitchen getting donuts ready for the fellowship hour and they are not back home preparing a roast for Sunday dinner. Some people are doing such things, but not the people listening to your sermon. You should not, therefore, imagine you are preaching to a bunch of Martha’s. It is an assembly of Mary’s giving you their attention and you should think of them as such.
This does not mean they have nothing to learn from this text, or from your sermon. Neither does this mean the sermon should simply pat them on the back. Even less should you invite them to look down on those who are too distracted to come to worship.
What might it look like to preach to Mary?
First, I would suggest you take a cue from Luke and focus your hearers’ attention on Jesus. Luke does this by moving from the plural pronoun to the singular in verse 38 (αὐτοὺς to αὐτὸς). The Disciples are with Jesus at the start of this text, but they fade into the background in the house and do not reappear until chapter 11. He is the Lord (verse 40) and He is at the center of this text. The temptation for a preacher on this familiar text is to focus on what we do—on how we should be more like Mary and less like Martha. But in such sermons Jesus easily fades into the background. Instead, the Lord should be as central in your sermon as He is in this text.
Second, notice the context. This passage comes immediately after the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The question which started that conversation was about salvation, before the second question about the neighbor (see 10:25). Whether or not you preached on this text last week (and if you followed my suggestion to cast Jesus as the Good Samaritan), you might remind your hearers how Jesus is the one who shows compassion (10:33). When He addresses Martha, He is gentle and kind (“Martha, Martha…”). His words are more like a loving invitation than a stern rebuke.
Third, Jesus commended Mary. It would not be out of line to commend your Mary’s too. There are many good things (increasingly more, it seems) tempting to distract us from gathering together at Jesus’ feet in worship. The people in your congregation have chosen the good portion, the “better dish” (note how μερίδα can refer to a part of the meal). This is reason to give thanks and celebrate!
How might you bring these ideas together in a sermon?
I would suggest you help your hearers recognize the blessed position in which they find themselves. Like Mary, they (with you) are at Jesus’ feet to learn and hear from the Lord of all Creation. It is a privileged place to be if there ever was one! Your hearers are not there because of their wisdom as much as Jesus’ gracious instigation. Martha may have welcomed (ὑπεδέξατο) Jesus into the house, but Jesus is the one who entered (εἰσῆλθεν) the village (38).
What is more, the one thing necessary—which is Jesus, Himself, of course—will not be taken away from Mary. And He will not be taken away from your hearers, either. He has given Himself to us—not only as Teacher and Lord, but also as Savior. No one can take away the forgiveness, life, and salvation which is ours in Christ. Proclaim this promise, fellow preachers! Then, invite your hearers to return with you to Jesus’ feet regularly.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 10:38-42.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 10:38-42.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 10:38-42.