Who’d be a referee? There you are, in the middle of it all, players trying to fool you, see what they can get away with, persuade you. Everybody on the touch line second guessing your decisions, questioning your parenthood, suggesting you should go to Specsavers. If you have a perfect performance no one notices you, but get it wrong and you’re on Youtube for eternity. Who’d be a referee? Throughout the gospels people keep trying to make Jesus the referee, “tell my brother to share the inheritance”, “who’s the greatest”, “shall we call down fire from heaven”, “shall we tell them to stop casting out demons in your name”, “tell my sister to come and help me”.
I wonder if, like me, you ever feel like you are being forced into the role of referee? In your family, in your work place, in your ministry? Dad, tell him to stop being annoying. Boss, she isn’t selling enough. The music group is playing too loudly. The sermon wasn’t deep enough. Sometimes wish I had a whistle and a yellow card (or even a red one). But Jesus didn’t need a whistle or cards. What does Jesus do? It seems to me that he does two things. He affirms what is good and he addresses the root cause.
He affirms what is good, he doesn’t bottle it, he doesn’t hem and haw and try and please everyone, he affirms the good: Mary has chosen what is better and he isn’t slow to acknowledge that.
He also addresses the root cause of Martha’s anger. He doesn’t tell her not to be angry, or to come and sit down, he doesn’t say that she shouldn’t be preparing the meal. He addresses the root cause, which is that she is anxious and worried. Jesus always resists anxiety and fear.
And why should we be anxious? This Jesus, who sat at a table and had a meal with a family, is the same Jesus who created all things, including all powers and authorities. He holds everything together. He heads up the church, this church. He is supreme. He has made peace through the cross. Peace between us and God, peace between us and each other, and peace in our own selves. Why should we be anxious? Whatever is facing us, why should we be worried?
It is when we have really got our heads around these truths, and when they have taken root in our hearts and souls that our labours spring forth. Not from duty or anxiety, but from joy. Jesus told us to pray for the Lord of the harvest to drive the labourers into the harvest, he said the that worker is worth his keep. There is work to do, but when it is done because we are anxious, or with judgement in our hearts for those who are not joining us, then it is poisoned. It is only when our work is energised by the joy that we have in the work of Jesus that it will be healthy and life giving.
In John’s gospel we visit Martha’s household again.
“There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
I spent some time reflecting on these verses a couple of years ago, and it struck me that here we have the same household, doing the same things, but with a completely different atmosphere. What has changed? What has happened in the meantime? Lazarus died and was raised to life. There was an encounter with the reality of the resurrection power of Jesus. And in the heart of that encounter we hear this from Martha, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’” In that declaration we hear the antidote to anxiety, faith, doing its work.
Martha is serving with joy. Mary has learnt and is now worshipping. Lazarus has moved out of the shadows and is leaning into Jesus’ friendship.
And there is Jesus, no longer being forced into the role of referee, but in his proper place as the Lord, whom it is right to serve; God, whose presence calls forth worship, and Friend, with whom we are invited to sit and eat.
I wonder which of these three aspects of your relationship with Jesus the Holy Spirit is calling you to experience more fully. Our Lord has works that he has prepared for us to do, are we being obedient to that call? Are we too busy with the things that we think are important to focus on what he has prepared for us to do? In fear have we buried our talents or in faith are we making the most of them? Our God is worthy of our worship, of the abandoned worship that runs on for infeasibly long sentences because it cannot stop talking about the extent of God’s majesty and love. Of the abandoned worship that pours out hundreds of pounds worth of perfume, that wipes feet with hair, that is beyond embarrassment. Our Friend loves to sit and eat with us, to spend to time with us, to be part of our lives, to get excited about plans together, to do stuff, to be there for us when we are hurting.
Dear Father, thank you that Jesus is our Lord, our God, our Friend, please give us strength to resist anxiety and to live and work in faith and in joy. When we are called on to referee please give us wisdom and courage, and in all things may we serve, worship, and love Jesus, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.