We just heard the account of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha. We find out later, in St. John’s Gospel, that they are the sisters of Lazarus–the one that Jesus raised from the dead–and that they live in Bethany, a few miles from Jerusalem. St. John records [11.4]: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
In the Gospel, we get a glimpse of the personalities of these two sisters. Martha seems to be the energetic and active one; Mary, seems to be the one who is more quiet and contemplative. Very likely Martha was the older one, as she seemed to be the one running the household–quite fitting for her personality. And notice how our text begins: As they went on their way, Jesus came into a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. As the one in charge of the household, she was the one welcoming Jesus. Of course, remember: As they went on their way... That’s Jesus and the disciples. So this was no small dinner to prepare–maybe a couple dozen if you include those of the household and maybe an invited guest or two. It is no wonder that Martha is frazzled with all the work to be done–work that she’s doing alone while her sister Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet…listening to his word.
Of course, we can understand her frustration of getting no help. But her comment to Jesus is a criticism and rebuke of Jesus: Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me. He should have known that Martha needed Mary to help her; she wants Jesus to chase her into the kitchen to help her. And so what does Jesus do? –He corrects Martha, the busy hostess: Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
We miss the main thrust of this account if we simply think: Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet–good; Martha, doing all sorts of work–bad; the quiet life–good, the busy, active life–bad. St. Augustine remarks: The one was arranging many things, the other had her eyes upon the One. Both occupations were good. The key to this–and which serves for our spiritual good–are the words: you are worried and upset about many things. It wasn’t the busyness that the Lord corrects, it’s the lack of center and focus. Mary had that focus; her life, attention, center was on Jesus and His word.
That’s what we need in our lives–focus. In our world today with so many things pulling us into all sorts of different directions; with so many things to preoccupy us, no wonder we so easily get frazzled. Think of the planets all revolving orderly around the sun–so much so that we can predict their paths–that’s having a center! If the sun wasn’t there, the planets would be going off in all sorts of different directions without any rhyme or reason. For us this means what? It means that we are to be like Mary– Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. And what does that mean? –It means that we keep Jesus and His word at the center of our life; He, His word, His salvation is the focus of our lives. No matter how busy our lives may be, they all revolve around Christ; that gives them form and focus; that determines what is important and what is not so that we are not distracted by many things and frazzled.
We see that wonderful Christ center/ focus, the one thing…needed in the life of St. Paul. Certainly reading through the book of Acts and through his epistles, St. Paul could never be accused of simply living a quiet, contemplative life. He is always on the go, always engaged in his missionary work but his center, his focus is always on Jesus. That gave form and order; although there were many things calling for his attention, his mind was not distracted–Jesus was at the center. Paul says [1 Co 2.2; 9.27]: I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified and I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. And in our text we even hear St. Paul saying: Now I rejoice in my sufferings. That’s a life with a center and focus–Christ; and everything falls into line with it–even suffering.
In today’s text, St. Paul also tells us about another great grace that is ours as Christians–that union that we have with Jesus. Jesus and His Christians are united. Our text: Now I rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church. Notice what St. Paul is saying: He calls the Christians/ the Church the Body of Christ. We are not all off doing our own thing, but we are together united in Jesus and each Christian is united with Him. Being united with Jesus began at the moment of baptism, where we were united with Jesus into His death and resurrection. St. Paul writes elsewhere [Rm 6.3]: as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…We were buried with Him through baptism into His death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. At our baptism we suffered and died with Jesus; and now, when we suffer–as we suffer as we live out of lives of faith, as we suffer on account of our faith, as we suffer for telling the good news about Jesus–since we are united with Jesus, He suffers with us. When Jesus called St. Paul–who at that time was Saul, a great persecutor of the Church/ Christians–Jesus called to him [Ac 9.4]: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Not, the Church, but Me! So united/ one is Jesus with His Church that when the Christian suffers, Jesus suffers. Our sufferings are united. And in the Judgment on the Last Day Jesus will say [Mt. 25.40]: Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.
And as we read in our text: this mystery, which is Christ in you… Not only did Jesus come into the world to save us sinners, but He comes personally and individually to each person in His holy Word and Sacrament. He comes to us in them, and by His Holy Spirit creates faith in Him in our hearts, and as Jesus says [Jn 14.23]: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. This is what’s called the mystical union–the Holy Triune God, whom the whole universe cannot contain–dwells in each of His Christians. That’s how close we are! Is any wonder that when we suffer, Christ suffers?
In our text, St. Paul has that interesting/ difficult line: in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church. Is Paul saying that, Jesus didn’t suffer enough to save us and that we have to add to His suffering to be saved? –Absolutely not! Jesus’ work is perfect, once for all; we can’t add anything in the slightest to it. But what we have here in this verse is what Jesus says elsewhere [St. John 15.18, 20]: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you….If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. So what the Christians suffer on account of their faith/ living out that faith, what we suffer for telling the Good News about Jesus/ being a witness to Christ in word and deed to the world around us, they are blows struck at Christ; they are leftovers from the world’s hatred toward Jesus; they are modern day blows/ scourging of Jesus. And why? Because Jesus is so closely united with His dear Christian. The blow at the Christian is the blow at Christ. Once Jesus was whipped, beaten, crucified and died that did not mean the hatred of the devil and world stopped. It continues on. Those “leftover” blows and hatred today that Jesus’ Christians endure are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.
There is a tremendous comfort here: through faith in Jesus, His holiness and righteousness is ours–and so are His sufferings; remember we are baptized into His suffering and death. But also, as we suffer, as we are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, our sufferings are in common with Jesus. We don’t suffer alone. Our sufferings are not wasted/ pointless. They have meaning and significance. They help form us into being more like Christ.
Although our text has that glorious truth of our union with Christ and our sufferings for and with Him, it is in a context; it is part of something else St. Paul is talking about–telling the Good News about Jesus, of proclaiming the word of God. And this brings us to another glorious truth: Jesus, who is in us, is through us building His Church/ gathering people into His Church. Jesus clearly tells us [Mt. 16.18]: I will build My Church. But how does Jesus do it? Does He just “zap” people to faith?
No! He gathers people into His Church through the work of the Holy Spirit in the word and sacrament. And He, in grace, allows us a share in it; we get to share in Jesus’ work of building His Church! What a glorious privilege–God wants to use us. And why shouldn’t He? –After all He dwells in us by faith; we are united with Jesus by baptism and faith. How can He not use us? When you get the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, share what Jesus has done for you, to encourage someone in the faith–you are doing that with Jesus. We each have our own work to do, our special place where the Lord has placed us to help gather people into His Church. St. Paul had his very special place and work in setting up and establishing the Church in places like Colossae. Our text: I became a minister of the Church for your benefit when God gave me the task of fully proclaiming the word of God, namely, the mystery that was hidden for past ages and generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. Jesus has His saving word go out into the world because that’s the only way people can come to faith–by the Holy Spirit’s work in the Word and Sacrament. Notice St. Paul calls the proclamation about Jesus/ the word of God: the mystery that was hidden. It is hidden/ a sealed mystery to every person; we don’t know it instinctively that we have a Savior from sin. We must be told; it must be revealed/ proclaimed to us. Through that proclamation that St. Paul and all Christians down through the ages–including you and me/ us who are united with Jesus–Jesus is building His Church. Dear Christian, this great mystery that God is our Savior, that in Him is the forgiveness of sins, that He is gathering people from all over the world into His Church and giving them the gift of eternal life in heaven –has been revealed to His saints–that’s you and me and all Christians. God has called us that we may be holy and our eyes be enlightened by His Holy Spirit. That’s His grace and mercy to us and that’s the same grace and mercy He has on others and so He lets us share in His work of gathering people into His Church. Our text: God wanted to make known to [His saints] what is the wealth of the glory of this mystery among the [nations]–this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Jesus is our hope of glory–through Him we have the firm and certain hope of coming to the glory of eternal life. And we get to tell others the Good News about Jesus so that by His Holy Spirit at work in the word we share with people we know–family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.– they, too, may come to faith! That’s our goal and our prayer, dear Christian. St Paul writes in our text: We proclaim [Christ] as we admonish and teach everyone with all wisdom, so that we might present everyone perfect in Christ. By the Law–showing the sin–and by the Gospel–showing the Savior–our desire is that the other person would come to faith or grow in faith in Jesus and be perfect in Him–that is, forgiven their sins and united with Christ, fighting sin and standing before God in the perfect holiness of Jesus.
What a glorious scene: we live our lives as Christians, with Jesus and His word and work as the center of our lives; Jesus is united with us, gathering people into His Church through the word we share. Jesus, the glory of the Gospel and the certainty of salvation stand in the midst of a fallen world. INJ Amen