What the Gospels Say: Chapter 3

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About Jesus Christ: Chapter 3

 

TWO SISTERS: DIFFERENT CHOICES

We begin this chapter with some quotations from Scripture. These verses will set up the conditions under which our Old Testament story takes place. With this background, we can better understand how this story matches with what we will consider from the New Testament. Both have to do with two women who were caring and respectful of the others in their lives.

Joshua 2:6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD’S anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the LORD gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Joshua 2:6-19).

As our point of entry into this chapter, imagine yourself where you must choose another country in which to live. What would that country be and why would you select it? What changes do you see coming because you moved to that country? Twice, in the book of Ruth, we find the decision to relocate in another country is part of our story about two sisters-in-law.

Ruth’s story comes during the time described in the verses above from the book of Judges. Not only were times tough—they were scary. Israel had not yet set up a central government and neighboring peoples often came over their borders to pillage and plunder. As we read from Joshua 2, individuals called “judges” would be appointed and they brought some order out of chaos. They would call the people of Israel to worship God and bring light into a dark world.

It is during this period that we read about a family from the tribe of Judah leaving their country to escape a severe famine. The book of Ruth is the story of Elimelech and Naomi his wife who left Israel with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilian. We aren’t told how old the sons were, but it appears they were near marriageable age. They believed that things would be better for them in the land of Moab.

Heartbreak in the New Land

Shortly after the family’s arrival in Moab, a series of events took place that would affect their lives and the history of Israel as well. First, Elimelech, the husband and father, dies. Naomi is now faced with the care of her two sons by herself. The usual support of family and home were far away in Israel. It was not long, however, before both her sons find Moabite women that they marry. With Orpah and Ruth joining the family, things moved along quietly for about ten years. Then, tragedy strikes again: Both of Naomi’s sons die. That forces a change of plans.

Naomi is now alone, in a foreign land with two daughter’s-in-law and little prospect for marriage for any of them. She decides to return to Israel. By making that move, she would free Ruth and Orpah from the burden of caring for her and give them the chance to find new husbands. Both young women, however, feel they have a duty to their mother-in-law. She had provided husbands for them and they wanted to make sure she would be well taken care of in her native land. They agreed to return to Judah with Naomi.

Naomi, however, won’t have any of that. She argued that it would be better for both of them to remain in Moab to have a chance for a second marriage. Marriage for them would be almost impossible in Judah. Orpah saw the wisdom of that advice. She tearfully says goodbye to both Naomi and Ruth, and returns to her family to begin a new life.

Ruth is not of the same disposition. She tells Naomi, “it’s not about duty—it’s about relationship. There is a bond of love between us that goes beyond my desires and wishes.” Listen to how she responds to her mother-in-law’s advice: “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her!”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you from me.” (Ruth 1:15-17).

It’s About Relationship

Ruth recognizes that her decision to go to Israel with her mother-in-law leaves but one prospect: She will die in a land not her own and do so after taking care of Naomi until she dies. Her relationship, however, went beyond duty. She desired to be with Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God. Her choice was about devotion to things that were important to her. Naomi had taken her into her heart and Ruth declared her commitment to her land, her people and her God. To Naomi, she was saying, “I’m casting my lot with everything you stand for and represent.”

Undoubtedly, you will want to read the rest of Ruth’s story in the book that carries her name in the Old Testament. It’s only four chapters long. In the rest of that book, you will discover that Ruth does find a husband inIsrael. She has a son. Through that son, Ruth became the great grandmother of King David. So because Ruth decided to throw in her lot with the people and God of Israel, she became an important link in the line of the kings of Israel, the line that brought Jesus into the world.

Matthew 1:5, 6. “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,  Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed, the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.”

We never read of Orpah again. Her identity is imbedded in the story of Ruth. Two young women each made a choice. Each choice resulted in a different destiny. One is a footnote in the story of the other. The other holds an honored position in the birth of King David and the Son of God. We now return to the New Testament and read about the choices of two sisters.

Jesus Says, She Has Chosen What is Better

One of Jesus’ favorite and most restful places to visit was the home of Martha and Mary in the village of Bethany. Located about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, we can understand Jesus’ frequent visits to their home. Other Marys are mentioned in the New Testament including Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene whom Jesus delivered from demonic influence. This Mary and Martha were sisters who lived with their brother, Lazarus. Later, Bethany would be the place where Jesus performed his greatest miracle—bringing Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, back to life.

It soon becomes apparent from reading the occasions that Jesus stopped to visit in Bethany, that these two sisters had a special place in Jesus’ heart. Like most families, these sisters were different in temperament. We see Martha as the outgoing, gregarious woman while Mary kept herself in the background, having a quieter disposition. But Jesus’ affection for them was not based on these differences. As we read on, we’ll see that Jesus loved them as he loved their brother—because of the relationship of trust between them.

The Home Visit

Jesus had arrived in Bethany accompanied by his disciples. Although we don’t know how many were with him, let’s take the position that at least 12 disciples (or followers) accompanied Jesus. Perhaps there were more. That was a large group. It required much for the hostess to prepare something for them to eat. Having this celebrated Teacher in your home as a special guest with his inner circle of followers was an honor and distinction that didn’t escape Martha’s thinking. She was making sure the preparations would fit the occasion.

Things were going well until Martha noticed that Mary was spending her time with those who were listening to Jesus. Mary was not helping her with the meal preparation. And besides, she was getting the attention from Jesus that she, Martha, felt just as entitled to. It wasn’t fair and Jesus should have noticed that.

Let’s look at how she tried to place Jesus between herself and Mary while at the same time, putting the blame for her hurt on Jesus. “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ” (Luke 10:40).  Martha was telling him this house has a duty to perform to entertain guests. Jesus, I’m doing my part while my sister is avoiding hers. Can’t you see what’s happening?

Jesus Replies to Martha

In her heart, what do you think Martha wanted Jesus to do? Was Jesus going to go into the room where everyone was sitting and listening to him and tell Mary, “Your sister just reminded me that you should be helping her getting the meal ready—would you mind doing that?” No, Jesus was not going to take away Mary’s devotion for him and his teaching to attend to the duties of the house.

Observe how Jesus responded to Martha. While he is not going to scold Mary for her actions, he wanted to teach Martha something that would carry the teaching to us, too. “Martha, Martha . . .” Speaking to her and using her name twice was a sign of great affection. If effect, Jesus was saying, “Martha, Martha, you are my dear friend. I’m not bawling you out, but I want you to look at what has gripped your attention and what Mary has discovered.”

So, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, 42). Luke, the writer, pointed out that when the group first arrived at their home, “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Yes, Martha, there are many important things in life, but only a few are essential. Many things are good, Martha, but look for and chose what is best.

From our reading of the gospels, Jesus was not in the habit of providing lunch for private groups. It was no secret to anyone in Bethany that Jesus had fed thousands with just scraps of food. Perhaps Martha could have invited friends and neighbors to come over for a pot-luck lunch. This way, she and they would have been free to listen to Jesus since several people would have been helping out with the lunch. In a land where hospitality was important, such an arrangement would not be unusual. But Martha made a choice to engage in duty rather than devotion.

Discussion Questions and Lessons for Living:

As we have looked at Mary and Martha (and Jesus), and reflect on choices the sisters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah) made, how can we expand the scope of Jesus’ conversation? What are the differences and similarities seen in the two stories?

 

  1. Orpah was diverted from staying with Naomi. Martha was distracted by her busy service.

Any diversions or distractions that you are facing?

 

  1. Martha had her heart set on service to Jesus and his disciples. Necessary? Important? Good?

 

  1. Mary had her heart set on worshiping and listening to Jesus. Essential? Critical? Best?

 

  1. From this study, how can the “good” become the enemy of the “best”?

 

  1. What answers do you see for yourself from Jesus’ conversation?

 

  1. What can you learn from Ruth’s “confession” to Naomi (Ruth 1:15 – 17)?

 

Here are some additional ideas for discussing the choices that Orpah and Ruth made:

 

  1. Was one the right choice and the other not?

 

  1. What if Orpah had returned with Naomi to Judah? What if both of them had stayed in Moab?

 

  1. Ruth chose to leave her land, her roots, her religion to move to a new place with her mother-in-law. What do you think attracted her to the people and God of Israel?

 

  1. When you read the book of Ruth, take special note of the role that Naomi played as the mentor for Ruth. Any thoughts about how we can make use of that kind of relationship?

 

Chapter 4