Jesus, Two Argumentative Sisters, and His Teaching On Prayer
(Luke 10, verses 38-41; Luke 11, verses 1-13)
When we left off last week at verse 37 of chapter 10 of Luke's gospel, Jesus had just concluded a conversation that followed his Parable of the Good Samaritan. The teacher of the Law – who today would be addressed as 'Rabbi' or 'Professor' – wanted to justify himself. So he had asked that Jesus explain what he meant when he asked our Lord and Savior, “Who is my neighbor”? Jesus told him, 'everybody', and commanded him to be merciful towards other people as he said, “Go and do likewise”. So as we begin today's study, we find ourselves at the final 3 verses of chapter 10, where Jesus and his disciples happen upon a village that welcomes them with open arms. They are at the home of a lady named Martha, where they are receiving some good hospitality and a place to rest. Once again the Biblical theme of showing mercy while expecting nothing in return is prominent in the apostle Luke's gospel. Our narrative as told by him begins at verse 38:
“As Jesus and the disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and ask, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her'.” (Luke 10, verses 38-41)
Here we have an illustration of two different ways people react when presented with the Good News of Jesus, and in person no less. Suppose Jesus came to your house and you invite him in for dinner and an evening of Divine Instruction – how would you react? Would it be more like Martha, or like Mary? Let's say it's just you and your spouse or significant other, or whomever (pets not included), and one of you is doing all the work while the other is with all the other guests in the living room listening to Jesus teach. Would you get as exasperated as Martha? (“Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”) Maybe, or maybe not. The point here is that the very presence of Christ inspires everyone who welcomes him into their home – and so into their hearts – to serve him in different ways. But in the end, all will receive the same reward, and it will be a generous one, even more generous than all the preparation efforts of 1000 Martha's.
'Don't you care?', Martha asked. Of course Jesus cares, far more than my limited human mind and vocabulary could ever enunciate to you. But Jesus told Martha that caring was not the issue, but that service was. “.... you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” And what is that “one thing that is needed”? The thing that Martha and Mary already had – they just hadn't yet recognized its significance – was Jesus residing in their hearts. It is clear to see that by opening their home to Christ, they had opened up their hearts as well. That's what Jesus was saying to Martha, only not in so many words. Which ever way or method of worship and service one is best suited for, that way or method will never be taken from any believer. The salvation of Christ, then, regardless of your denomination, creed, race or nationality, is irrevocable. In the next verses, Jesus Moves on as he teaches us the Lord's Prayer, starting at chapter 11 and verse 1.
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say, 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who have sinned against us. And lead us not into temptation.'” (Luke 11, verses 1-4)
Let's stop here momentarily and have a look at the context of these verses. As I have taught in previous Bible studies of the apostle Paul, the apostles were all Jewish men except for Luke, who was the only Gentile of the Twelve. As such, under the Hebrew traditions established from the time of Moses, all the prayers and atonement for the sins of the people were made to the high priest, who would burn the sacrificial offerings of the people to God on their behalf. The whole idea of praying directly to God through Jesus Christ – who is the new sacrifice and a replacement for the old – was completely foreign to the apostles at that point in Jesus' ministry. It was outside the scope of their collective experience. That is why they said to the Lord, 'Teach us to pray'. They were asking Jesus for clarification – not because they were dull or lacked understanding, but because there was a fire of truth burning in the hearts of each of the apostles to perform a good service, because they were inspired by Jesus to act in his interests instead of their own. Notice, too, that the disciples of John the Baptist had asked him an evidently similar question, and this had apparently intrigued the apostles and sparked their own curiosity. Also notice that it is apparently Luke who asked this question, since the narrative declines to name him. So, although this is a shortened version of the Lord's Prayer that we have come to know and love, that doesn't mean it has any less meaning. And now let's conclude this week’s Biblical study starting at verse 5.
“Then he said to them, 'Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, loan me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. My door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him what he needs. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks him for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him'!” (Luke 11, verses 5-13)
The New Living Translation of the Bible says the first part a little differently, and I quote from verse 8: “But I tell you this – though he won't do it as a friend, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you what you want so his reputation won't be damaged.” Jesus was and is telling us that if we want to be his followers, we must be very, very persistent in doing so – because, when we do, then and only then will he give us the desires of our heart! By that I don't mean wealth and luxury goods, either. I'm writing more about the things that matter – taking care of each other, watching out for everybody's kids when the parents can't or are distracted, making sure everyone's basic needs are met, companionship, family and so on. That's how everyone can follow Christ; by taking good care of that which our heavenly Father has created.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” As you can see here, the idea of maintaining a “positive mental attitude” did not originate with motivational speakers and life coaches. It originated with the Book of Job in the Old Testament, and it gets an update and reaffirmation from Jesus himself right here in Luke's gospel. Let's look at the inverse of what Jesus was saying to the apostles – if we don't ask for what we need or want, we should expect nothing. Anybody who waits around for their 'handout' will be waiting for the rest of their lives. If we don't seek, we'll never find what we're looking for. If we don't knock, how will anyone know to open the door for us? Standing in front of the door while failing to knock would look ridiculous, to say the least. No, we are to knock if we want to be let in. Anyone who enters by any other way is a thief and a robber.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” 'Don't just do these things for your loved ones and all others who are close to you', Jesus was saying. Perform random acts of charity with complete strangers while expecting nothing in return. In so doing, we emulate Christ, who gives to us freely while expecting nothing in return – except obedience to his commandments. So in conclusion we can plainly see that it is in our own best interests to ask God for whatever we want, only we must pray to Jesus, who is our high priest and our sacrifice for all our sins, in order to receive it. Jesus is our defense attorney, our advocate before the Lord God Almighty, and he intercedes for us continuously against Satan, the accuser of the brethren. So do not be fearful or worried about anything. Just ask Jesus or, as it says in the last verse, pray to the Holy Spirit and you will receive what you need – again, provided that we obey his commandments. And next week we'll move on to part 2 of Luke chapter 11.