What happened in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord and had their eyes opened, has set in all of our hearts a desire for redemption. We now see our mistakes, our failures, our shortcomings, our imperfections, but our hearts still long for things to be the way they were originally created - without spot, wrinkle or blemish. We seek to be redeemed.
Today, we are constantly trying to redeem our bodies from time: Plastic surgery, exercise equipment and fads, make up, hair growth, weight loss pills...
We are also trying to redeem our minds and emotions: self improvement books, counselors, step by step programs, online games, further education...
And we are trying to redeem our souls: drugs, religion, entertainment, romance...
The other day I found a story in the Bible about redemption. I had heard this story preached on, written about and studied it myself numerous times and yet had always missed the cord of redemption running through its main storyline. Perhaps you know the story of Mary and Martha? It’s pretty short, so let’s just read it here real quick in Luke 10:
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now usually when we hear this story broken down, we learn about Martha being too busy, while Mary took time to simply be with the Lord. As Emily Freeman points out in her book, Grace for the Good Girl, however, Martha did a lot of things right. First, she welcomed Jesus into her home. She had open arms of hospitality. That carried over into the work she was doing, trying to feed all her guests. As travelers they were no doubt hungry and Martha was trying to take care of them. And here was her sister Mary, who wasn’t of the greatest repute anyway, not helping. It’s hard to blame Martha for going to Jesus over this matter. And at least she did bring up her concerns. I would have played the silent martyr and being secretly resentful to Mary and maybe Jesus, too.
Still, the best thing, the one thing necessary, was to sit at Jesus’ feet and He wanted Martha to see that.
So where’s the theme of redemption in this story? Take note of where Mary sat: at the Lord’s feet. Never have I thought much of this before, other than the fact that maybe it was her sign of humility. However, when reading about this story the other day, the Lord brought to my mind another time in the Bible when a woman positioned herself at the feet of a man. It happens in Ruth chapter 3. To recap the story, Naomi lost her husband and both her sons. Her only family left were her daughter-in-laws. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, chose to stay with Naomi despite the fact that Naomi urged her to go back to her own people. In Ruth 3, Naomi decides she needs to find a new husband for Ruth so that she will be provided for. In Biblical times the closest relative who was able to offer assistance to another relative who was in danger or had need was called the Kinsman (Family) Redeemer. For Naomi and Ruth this man was Boaz. So Naomi gave Ruth a set of pretty odd instructions which ended with “go uncover his (Boaz’s) feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.” (v.4)
This was Ruth’s way of requesting that Boaz be her Kinsman Redeemer (which he did, by the way, and Ruth went on to be the great-grandmother of King David).
Now back to Mary. I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, her positioning herself at Jesus’ feet was her way of asking Him to redeem her. Mary was a very notorious sinner, a prostitute. She knew she needed redemption. She was looking hard for a Savior and wasn’t about to miss the One right in front of her.
Martha was a “good girl”, used to having to take care of things, probably even her trouble-making sister. She knew the value of hard work and the effort it took to keep it all together. However, she, too, knew she needed redemption and was going about finding it the only way she knew how - work. It had been her redemption all her life, perhaps, keeping her from the same fate as her sister.
Martha’s servant’s heart was never the problem here. Even Jesus said He came not to be served, but to serve others (Matthew 20:28). Serving and sacrifice are two highly valuable qualities in Jesus’ eyes. The problem was Martha’s reason behind serving. Instead of receiving redemption from the Lord and that being her motivation to serve, she was seeking redemption through her service. However, Jesus Himself tell us that the "human effort accomplishes nothing" in John 6:63 NLT.
How shocked Martha must have been when Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the best thing. But listen to how He addresses her with deep compassion: “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset...”
Oh how I long to hear the Lord say I am dear to Him and recognize my fears and worries. He does, you know. The Lord calls out to us with compassion and sees us in all our mess. He’s holding out His hand of redemption and invites us to sit at His feet. It’s the only way redemption can be found. Despite what we may have learned in our Christian homes and churches, we will only be redeemed when we sit at the feet of Jesus. Our hardest work and most sacrificial service will never get us there. We must come, humbly submitting ourselves to the Lord, and simply accept all that He so graciously offers. And then, service will bubble out of our thankful hearts of gratitude for all He has already done.