link to lyrics, sheet music, and audio files
link to Part II, for verse 3 of the hymn

written by Constance Morgenstern

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Bible Study and Thoughts for

"Jesus, Guest of Many People"

I guess you could say that Jesus was ‘trending.’ He was, during his three-year ministry, always big news. Updates about his healings and actions spread quickly from wherever he was.

As he traveled through towns and cities, people offered hospitality. Custom and curiosity explain many of the invitations. Possibly, people also wanted to be part of his limelight. We even know that hostility motivated some of the invites, as his religious enemies tried to catch him doing something against their rules….

Our hymn “Jesus, Guest of Many People” combines several stories about Jesus in various home settings, all taken from the Gospel of Luke. Some stories are fairly familiar. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, these stories are not old.

Part I:

The first story (in verse 2 of the hymn) is written from the perspective of Martha, who lived in a village called Bethany. Jesus is coming to her house! From the story in Luke 10:38-42, we might expect that a whole group of disciples is arriving, too! (See verse 38.)

Now I can certainly relate to Martha getting a little crazy about that. Worse, as she’s running around being hostess, her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening and listening. Finally, Martha says, “Lord, tell her to help me!” … And I really do love the next part:

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus begins. In the repetition of her name, I hear such gentleness! Yet, as much as he conveys his care for her, he also tells her that Mary’s careful listening is a better choice than her own focus on the food and surroundings. (It’s a little surprising that he says this, given that he’s a guest who will benefit from Martha’s hospitable details!)

I’ve looked at this story before, and it finally came to me that, for Martha, the chance to hear Jesus was rare and valuable—just a tiny bit removed from a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. Jesus traveled. His time of ministry was relatively short. There were no phones or video clips. As I consider the historical context, too, it appeals to me that Jesus encouraged Martha and Mary (women!) to also hear him.

Now, in the hymn, I suggest that Martha took Jesus’ admonishment well, even appreciating his gift for lovingly calling her to a better agenda. Do you wonder about that?

If it had been me, in Martha’s role, it might have taken a while to fully appreciate his kindly “talking-to”—like, until he left town! Then, I’d have missed him! Or, kicked myself for not, in fact, listening more.

But I do believe that she recognized his love for her. And I do believe that the kind of gentle truth-speaking modeled by Jesus (see Matthew 18:15-17) can not only solve disagreements, but foster respect and deepen relationships.

Martha clearly respected Jesus throughout their relationship—which did go on in meaningful ways! Martha, her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus show up in Scripture again. John’s story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead—which is remarkable in itself—gives hints how Martha later regarded Jesus.

In John 11, Lazarus is sick, so Martha and Mary send word to Jesus (see verse 3). In verse 5, too, we are told that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, which needs to be stated because Jesus doesn’t rush to heal Lazarus right away. (Verses 14 and 15 suggest that Jesus has another plan, which should help his disciples’ faith.)

So, when Jesus eventually approaches Bethany, Lazarus has already been buried for four days. Martha, hearing that Jesus is coming near, goes out to meet him. What she says in Verse 21 is pretty frank: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Her statement suggests to me that their friendship was deep—again, showing love and honesty both. That’s why I portrayed Martha as being able to value Jesus’ gentle reprimand in the Luke story, and that she would want him to return to her home.

This wider view of Martha—beyond the frenzied hostess of Luke 10—makes her especially relevant to modern Christians. She trusted Jesus. Continuing on from verse 21, we read that, even though Lazarus was already dead, she trusted Jesus’ power to care for Lazarus, through a final resurrection.

That’s not the end of the story, though. Mary, Martha, and a group of people there to comfort them, all proceed with Jesus to Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus orders that the stone over the tomb’s doorway be removed. Martha—in character—says that there will be a bad odor, but it is done. Jesus prays and orders Lazarus, the dead man, to come out! Even wrapped in strips of linen for burial, Lazarus does!

A little later, in John 12:1-3, Jesus again comes to be with them—at a dinner given in his honor. Lazarus is there, eating. Martha is serving. Mary takes a lot of expensive perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes his feet with her hair. The sentence at the end of verse 3 which describes the house as being filled with the fragrance of the perfume suggests to me that Apostle John remembered that they had a beautiful evening.

Of course, the raising of Lazarus and the events afterwards were not beautiful to everyone. Remember the other people, the comforters, who had witnessed Lazarus’s resurrection? Some came to believe in Jesus, yes, but some told Jesus’ enemies. That only intensified the desire of Jesus’ enemies to kill him, and Lazarus as well (John 11:45-57, John 12:9-11). This leads us into the events of Holy Week, which are another full story.

Getting back to Martha and the hymn, though, I like starting this collection of remembrances of Christ with Martha’s encounter: No, we don’t know what she served, or what her house was like. Martha herself, being Martha, probably remembered—but I believe she stopped considering them the most important thing.



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