Martha v. Mary

Another day. Another freak out about everything I “think” I have to get done. Cue the tears, the panic, and the guilt for not managing my time well and not spending enough time with Jesus on top of it all. Work. Wedding planning. Connecting with friends. Finding an apartment. Making food. Doing my laundry.  All good things, but sometimes overwhelming. I found myself thinking a lot about the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10 and feeling guilty that too often I am a “Martha.” And then I did some reading and realized that the mantra of  “be a Mary in a world full of Martha’s” that I had been speaking to myself had no truth to it and that it was actually a shame message.

If you have not read or heard the story, you can find it in Luke 10:38-42.  Jesus was traveling with his disciples when he stopped at the home of Mary and Martha (you might know about their brother Lazarus). Martha slaved away in the kitchen preparing a beautiful meal for Jesus. Her gift was hospitality and her way of showing honor was through acts of service. On the other hand, Mary sat dutifully at Jesus’ feet and listened to him teach. Martha comes into the room and asks Jesus if he does not care that Mary is not helping her — both accusing Jesus and shaming her sister in one fell swoop. Jesus quickly reprimands Martha, not for wanting to prepare a meal for him, but because her priorities were not in order and she was consumed with worry and anxiety. Mary on the other hand had decided that the most important thing she could do was sit at Jesus’ feet. She was not trying to be lazy or leave her sister to do all the work. She was just simply more concerned about time with Jesus than the quality of the food or the state of their home.

Now if you have grown up in the church and heard this story, you’ve likely seen Mary portrayed as the sister to imitate, and for good reason to. She is fully consumed by the presence of her Jesus that nothing else matters. She is making space for her guest of honor by listening to his teaching. Now on the flip side, what you have likely heard is that you never want to be a “Martha.” Martha is too busy. Martha does not care. Martha does not want to be with Jesus. After reading this passage again, I realized something that I have often missed — Jesus does not reprimand Martha for her business, rather he calls out her fear. He sees her worry, her desire to please, and acknowledges how she is feeling, but reminds her that there is something more important at hand.

““Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better…” – Luke 10:41-42

The InterVarsity Press puts it this way in their New Testament Commentary:

“Jesus commends the hearing of the word at his feet. To take time out to relate to Jesus is important. The language of the passage recalls Deuteronomy 8:3 (Wall 1989:19-35). In a sense Mary is preparing to partake in the “right meal” (Deut 6:1-8). What she has done by sitting at Jesus’ feet will remain with her. This meal will last. Jesus is not so much condemning Martha’s activity as commending Mary’s. He is saying that her priorities are in order. To disciples Jesus says, “Sit at my feet and devour my teaching. There is no more important meal.”

All Jesus wanted was Martha’s presence. He wanted her to not be overcome by worry, but to prioritize sitting in his presence and listening to his teaching.

Song for Reflection: Jireh | Elevation Worship & Maverick City

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