Mary and Martha Story

What the Mary and Martha Story Teaches Us

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I love the Mary and Martha story! Who do you relate to more, Mary or Martha? Let’s look at their story and how they set a good example for us! Perhaps we can walk away from the Mary and Martha story challenged to be intentional about our time with God.

Mary and Martha

Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus and made their home His base during His ministry in Judea. “In Luke 10:38, Jesus and his disciples “came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” The language suggests that Martha owned the house—not unlikely as women did own property in ancient times.” – usnews

No doubt, Jesus greatly appreciated their friendship, support and the haven of peace they offered as they opened up their home to Him. His accommodations and nourishment, was taken care of for Him.

Back then, hospitality was very important. When a guest arrived, he was welcomed with a kiss, his sandals were removed, his feet were washed, and his head was greased with refreshing perfumed oil. (Luke 7:44-47) This was a lot of work, but it showed honor to the guests.

According to some scholars, Martha may have been the eldest since she seems to have acted as hostess and at times is mentioned first. (John 11:5) There is no way of knowing whether any of them are married. At any rate, they became close friends of Jesus.

Mary And Martha Story

Let’s look at one conversation between Jesus and Martha and how it’s a source of encouragement and challenge for us all.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “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, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

The Bible tells us, in this Mary and Martha Story, that Jesus and His disciples were hanging out at the home of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on to His every word while Martha was busy being a good hostess. She was probably doing all of the cleaning, cooking, and serving the men.

Imagine Martha working hard, running around doing all the chores while her sister sat listening to Jesus. Martha could no longer suppress her frustration. She interrupted Jesus, blurting out about chores.

Jesus appreciates her hard work and servant’s attitude, I’m sure. Acts of service was probably her love language. Getting meals cooked and chores done is a vital part of everyday life. But He communicated to Martha that she was doing too much, and He said: “Martha, you are anxious and disturbed about so many things.” (Luke 10:38-41)

Martha says to Jesus: “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her to come and help me.” These were strong words. A number of translations render her question to sound like: “Lord, do you not care . . . ?” Then she asked Jesus to correct Mary, to order her back to work.

First, remember they must have been really good friends for her to feel comfortable making this request from Jesus. And second, the Bible tells us that along with the 12 disciples Jesus also had women follow Him as well.

Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources. (Luke 8:1-3 NET)

Back to the Mary and Martha Story, Jesus’ reply may have surprised Martha and we can just picture the tension rising within Martha’s heart. With all the food she had planned to prepare and all the chores she had to carry out for her guests, 12 or more hungry men plus any women that accompanied Jesus’ ministry, we might easily assume she was overwhelmed or exhausted and that lead to her becoming anxious and distracted.

She was very upset, upset enough to interrupt Jesus, as she saw her sister sitting there doing nothing to help her. I don’t blame her! LOL, I’d be upset too. But, let’s look deeper.

What Can We Learn From Mary And Martha

While Mary took the opportunity to sit at the feet of Christ, to rest in Him, to learn more from Him, Martha was busy cooking and preparing food for her guests.

Is cooking, cleaning, preparing, or being a good host/hostess not a good thing? Of course, it’s a good thing! There are many verses in the Bible that encourage us to be a good neighbor and host. To feed the hungry, wash the feet of the Lord’s people, and an overall good host.

But still, Jesus commended Mary for giving Him her full attention, as in that moment, He called it the one needed thing.

Martha and Mary normally have their delegated work. Mary, who is sometimes thought of as the more sensitive of the two, surely helped her sister out in normal day-to-day chores. But this day she had Jesus in her home and she wanted nothing else then to hang on His every word.

He viewed this visit as a time to teach and a time for His disciples to rest! Unlike the religious leaders during that time, Jesus respected women and readily taught them about God’s Kingdom, the theme of his ministry. Mary thrilled at this opportunity, sat at His feet, and paid attention to Jesus’ every word.

Mary And Martha With Jesus

As we study the Mary and Martha Story, we see the chores are causing Martha anxiety and worries – making her super annoyed with her sister, Jesus encourages Mary’s behavior and tells Martha He will not take that away from her.

Jesus then turns his attention to Mary saying: “For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.” I bet Mary might have forgotten what she ate on that day, but I’d assume everyone in the room would never forget Jesus’ words.

Jesus counsels Martha for being overly anxious with all of the cooking, chores and provisions rather than criticizing Mary. Jesus wants Martha to realize that keeping a full plate, overly busy, was not the priority at this moment.

For Mary and Martha, It was probably an honor to have the Messiah as a visitor, not just the Messiah but their close friend. Yet, Martha was distracted with the preparation of the meal and eager to provide and serve Jesus well.

Jesus knows Martha’s intentions are good. She wants to be hospitable, to serve these people well. But her anxious attention to serving means that she is missing out on the important time of hearing and resting in Jesus’ teaching.

Mary Has Chosen The Good Part

Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, was in Martha’s home to teach the truth. Nothing could be more important, including her lovely meal and preparations.

Jesus was no doubt saddened that Martha was missing out on a unique opportunity to deepen her faith and to rest in Him, but He let her make her own choice. Like He does with us all. It’s called a boundary.

So He gently corrected Martha, repeating her name to calm her agitated nerves, and he assured her that there was no need to be “anxious and disturbed about many things.”

A simple meal of one or two dishes would be sufficient? The chores could have waited. Especially when a spiritual feast, a chance to understand more deeply, was available. By no means, then, would He take away from Mary “the good portion” she had chosen​—that of learning from Jesus!   

Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better portion in listening to His teaching. What did Jesus mean? Was he dismissing her hard work in preparing a fine meal?

No. Jesus clearly saw that Martha’s motives were loving and pure. Further, He did not feel that the hospitality was necessarily wrong. Martha’s meal was not the key issue here; rather, it was her priorities.

She was so focused on the elaborate meal and being the perfect host that she lost sight of what mattered most. What was that? He wanted Martha to focus on the value of what He wanted to share with them that day.

This little domestic scene is rich in lessons for Christ’s followers today.

We must never allow anything to crowd out the filling of our “spiritual need.” (Mathew 5:3) While we want to imitate Martha’s hard-working, generous spirit, we never want to become so “anxious and disturbed” about the less essential part of our daily lives that we miss out on what matters most.

Make time for God and make time to nurture Christian friendships, not primarily for the sake of serving or receiving yummy food, but for an exchange of encouragement and the imparting of spiritual gifts. (Romans 1:11, 12) Even the simplest meal can make such an upbuilding occasion possible.

As iron sharpens iron so a person sharpens his friend.

Proverbs 27:17

Although we know the importance of continually strengthening our faith, reading the Bible, praying, and looking to God, we may at times become distracted. That is exactly what happened to Martha.

She became “distracted with attending to many duties.” If that could happen to such a faithful person like Martha and even with Jesus physically with her, we should not be surprised if the same thing could happen to us.

We can get distracted by doing all the good and necessary things that we put God on the back burner of life instead of making our relationship with Him a priority.

Do you get distracted? Have you ever put your Bible reading time on the backburner?

One Thing Is Needful

While it may seem that Martha was overly concerned with hosting Jesus and the disciples, we should not assume that she lacked interest in spiritual matters.

We, as Christian women, should take the same correction – Jesus must be the priority in our lives.

The miraculous story of Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, being brought back to life by Jesus is from John 11:1–45.

 After the death of their brother Lazarus, known as Jesus’ close friend, it was Martha who went to meet Jesus as he journeyed to Bethany, while Mary, at first, sat at home maybe because of grief or because she was entertaining some visiting – grieving friends.

Martha expressed faith in Christ when she said that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been present. She also acknowledged: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day,” expressing her belief in God. 

During that conversation, Jesus explained that he is “the resurrection and the life,” pointing out that though one exercising faith in Him died, he would come to life. When Christ asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” she showed her faith by replying: “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”(John 11:19-27)

At Lazarus’ tomb, when Jesus ordered to take away the stone, Martha said: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.” In response, Jesus asked: “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” ​— (John 11:39-44)

Martha was challenge, changed and got the honor to witness first hand miracles of Jesus. This drastically changed her and her family forever! The scripture shares her story as a profound lesson that can help us all strengthen our own faith.

Jesus is the one needed thing!

Mary And Martha – Lessons For Us

“How interesting that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha for her words. He doesn’t say, “‘Make your sister come and help you?’ Listen here, girlie, you do not get to speak to me that way. Don’t you know who I am?” Jesus accepts Martha where she is, as she is, and listens to her tirade without batting an eye.

You have that kind of audience with Jesus too. He’s a strong God, after all, who doesn’t get miffed or offended when you come to Him in the middle of emotional upheaval. He won’t mind if you tell Him exactly what you’re feeling. In fact, He adores you and longs to hear about anything you face. Jesus is your perfect Friend and Brother: approachable, loving, and eager to listen.” – Crosswalk

We need to take care that while priorities are important nothing should interfere with our walk with God. Moved by love, some – much like Martha – do their utmost to minister to the needs of fellow believers, acts of service. They are practical-minded and quick to take action and consider God’s promises to reward their labors of love. (Hebrews 13:16)

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.

Hebrews 6:10

Others perhaps more closely resemble Mary. Their eagerness to meditate upon God’s Word helps them to stay solidly rooted in the faith.​—Ephesians 3:17-19.

Let’s choose to be mindful and purposefully make time with God a priority. We all should ‘choose the good portion’ by putting a primary emphasis on our walk with God.​—Philippians 1:9-11.

What can you do today that will set the path for keeping God a priority in your life? How can the Mary and Martha Story inspire or encourage you to do better?

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