Mary and Martha love Jesus, but Martha is distracted by cares, so Jesus invites her into restful worship. How easy it is to lose sight of Jesus in our busyness!

The passage, which is Luke 10:38:-42 can be read below1 or here.

The Tension in the Text

There are two legs to our lives as Christians: our beliefs and our behavior. That is, how we think about God, ourselves, and others, AND how we choose to live our life.

Those two things are in tension in our text. You feel it. Martha loves Jesus and has invited him into her house, yet she is distracted by being the host. Mary is Martha’s sister and is under the same cultural expectations, yet she chooses to stop, to be near Jesus, and learn from him.

Beyond the Stereotype

We often have an exaggerated picture of Martha like she is a busyness martyr. You know, someone who feels victimized by their own errands. Yet, we’ve all been in situations where we are doing something that would go faster if someone else helped. We’ve all been in situations where the thoughts (I’ll have Jesus over) and the reality (it’s taxing to be a host) collide.

Martha is an answer to prayer. In the previous chapter Jesus sends out the 70 disciples and told them that they should expect to receive the hospitality of others with thankfulness. This would be because of the forward movement of God in the lives of the hearers. Martha is someone touched by Jesus and his message and she shows hospitality to him.

Mary and Martha love Jesus but Martha is distracted by the cares and concerns around her.

Martha is likely a widow. If she had a husband, the passage would have stated it was his home. She may be financially independent and financially stable. She is showing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples at a cost to herself.

Cultural Expectations of Mary and Martha

Martha and Mary were expected to fulfill cultural expectations. Then, as is common now, the role of food preparation and cooking fell to women. Women weren’t forbidden to be with men; they would join the men after the food was taken care of. To not meet this duty meant that you risked offending your guest.

Mary decides to stay at Jesus’ feet. Perhaps upon serving at the table, Mary overheard Jesus talking or teaching and his content grabbed her attention and she sat down to listen. Martha grows exasperated. At a point, the disciples likely think Jesus is going to redirect her to finish with the food prep–perhaps it is getting late and they are hungry. Yet, Jesus doesn’t send her away.

Martha’s frustration reaches the boiling point and she exclaims, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” In other words, I feel left out. Don’t you care about me?”

Jesus’ response is as valid as the question, “You are distracted by too many things. Mary has chosen to sit and listen and I’m not going to take that from her.”

Where are we in the text?

How does Martha respond? The text does not resolve the tension.

It is as if the writer is asking us, “If you were in that situation, what would you do?”

Some of us tend toward action. Is there a point where your action and your errands push you away from pursuing God? Is there a point where your own actions are your way of avoiding God?

Some of us, though, need to hear another word. Some of us are too prone to sit and not act. We soak up teaching after teaching and are prone to inaction.

Moving from Me to Us

Since Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, one could draw the conclusion that this passage is part of a broader conversation. In Acts 6 the elders have been faithful in the ministry of the Word, yet the physical needs of some of the members are suffering. Therefore, they elect seven deacons for the ministry of service and their job is to tend to the physical needs of the church.

Mary would parallel with the education, worship, and discipleship of the Church. Martha would parallel with the serving ministry of the church. One ministry should not be sacrificed for the other–we (and the world) need both. We need Martha to give hospitality to the Lord and to the Lord’s teaching. We need Mary who will help and who will also remember the importance of how the Word informs our actions.

 

  1. Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ ↩︎

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