Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are You a Mary or a Martha?

Happy Tuesday! This is the day The Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad!

Have you ever heard the story of Mary and Martha, two sisters from Bethany? It takes place in the gospel of  Luke, chapter ten, verses thirty-eight through forty-two. I heard this particular story many a time in Sunday school as a child. So often, the familiarity with stories like this, David and Goliath, and Jonah and the whale, lead me to gloss over what God is really revealing. Only in a recent rereading did I finally grasp the differences in the two sisters.

The story goes that Martha invited Jesus to their home. Blessed with the gift of hospitality and not one to do things half way, Martha stayed busy in the kitchen. I bet she was fixing a grand feast, adhering to the rule that it's better to have too much food than not enough. Translation: She probably could have fed an army. And don't you know the table looked just perfect. I'm sure she brought out the good dishes. Those without chips and cracks, the ones reserved for special guests.

Yet, while Martha worked her fingers to the bone, her little sister, Mary, sat at Jesus feet, hanging on His every word. She didn't ask Martha if she needed help. Instead, Mary listened to Jesus, probably asked a few questions. All things Martha would like to do. But how could she with so much work to do?

Finally, frazzled and annoyed, Martha says to Jesus, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

You know what Jesus said? "Martha, Martha." Can't you just picture Him shaking His head. "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Ouch! Not only did Jesus not side with Martha, He rebuked her.

But why? She was working so diligently. All she wanted was a little help so she could enjoy Jesus company as well.

Poor Martha. She was so caught up in preparations, presentation, and expectations that she was missing out on the opportunity to get to know her Lord on an intimate level.

How often do we do that? Get so caught up in our plans that we miss out on what's really important--an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today's world is full of distractions and things that demand our attention. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on what's important. Have you ever collapsed into bed, realizing you hadn't conversed with God all day?

Are you a Mary or a Martha? I'm almost ashamed to say that I can readily relate to our dear Martha. Perhaps even sympathize with her. But, oh, how I long to be a Mary. To stay focused on what, or Who, is really important, regardless of what's going on around me. 

Your turn. Mary or Martha?


  1. Funny you should bring this up today. My Bible class just studied this passage on Sunday. I'm definitely a Martha, busy busy busy. But as a friend pointed out, without the Marthas, the world would come to a complete halt. Like you said, the challenge for us is to stay focused through our toil. We've got to remember the reason. :)

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Hi Mindy:


    I can’t ever remember this story being mentioned in church on Sunday. Perhaps the priests did not like it.

    This story lacks the ring of justice just as the story of the laborers working in the vineyards getting paid the same even though some only worked an hour and the others toiled all day.

    I know: life isn’t just. Original sin and all that.

    Knowing human nature, however, I can make a few sound assumptions:

    1. Mary was younger, prettier, and spoiled.
    2. Martha heard every word that was being said in the other room, indeed, the kitchen was probably in the same room.
    3. Mary would have listened to any guest if it got her out of doing her work.
    4. Mary made a face at Martha when Jesus looked away. (Was she not a little sister?)

    You can listen to God as you work. Indeed, many Christians believe that their work is an offering to God. As such it should be.

    It is said that in my Father’s house there are many mansions, to wit I believe that the Marys of this world are going to be living in the boonies in the next.


  3. VV, you are correct. We do need Martha's. So long as our preoccupations don't overrule our Lord. A balancing act for sure.

  4. Vince, I had that same thought about Mary making the face when Jesus took her side, so to speak. However, our answer lies in Jesus' response. Remember, He looks at the heart. And, I believe, He knew the heart of each sister. Mary may have lacked the gift of hospitality, but her heart was in the right place. And, as a Martha, I know that while I can hear a conversation as I work, it's hard to truly be a part of it if I'm focused on something else.

  5. This story has lessons for sure. I think sometimes I'm a Martha and sometimes I'm a Mary. I can get way caught up in things and miss the importance--I also can rest at times. Like Mindy said--a balancing act is needed.

  6. I'm a little bit of both, but I tend to lean more toward Martha.

  7. I just heard someone speak about this, but I can't remember where! The person said something that really struck me. That Jesus wasn't chastising Martha for her busyness but for her attitude (worried and upset). If she had been doing the food and work joyfully, He might not have said a thing.

    I think that sometimes, whether I'm busy or not, my attitude isn't what it should be. I'm not joyful, not exhibiting an attitude of love and gratitude for Christ.

  8. Missy,
    I think our last WORD speaker touched on this because I was thinking the same thing, that the subject had been brought up recently.

    I'm definitely Martha... busy and griping the whole way about it!

    Mindy, great post! wonderful devotional!

  9. Missy, you are so right. Like I said to Vince earlier, Jesus knew their hearts. One was in the right place, the other...well...

  10. Christy, you're not alone. Did you notice that most of us are Marthas? I know I need to work on being a little more like Mary.

  11. I think Mary knew that work would always be with us but that her relationship with Jesus was paramount. It's easy for a task oriented person to see a relationship oriented person in a negative light. What seemed to be happening in this story is actually very layered in significance.

    Mary was all about the relationship. Martha was all about the task. It appears that rather than talking to Mary, Martha just started a complaining. But in reality, both were serving in the way and personality they were made.

    Some people are given a physical task desire. They focus on doing things. Others are focused on connecting with people. Neither is wrong. Both must communicate with the other without assuming that the other person fully sees or understands the need.

    Instead it seems that Martha began to fester internally rather than share her need through communicating with love.

    My take on that story :-)


  12. Good insight, Ang. I think we could pull the initial part of the story apart in so many ways. I have to keep going back to Jesus response, though.

    "Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

    That part in the middle-"But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better"-is where my focus always shifts. He wants us to choose Him above all. I have to ask myself, if Jesus came to my home, would I be worried about the preparations and what the house looked like, or would I be able to abandon everything to sit at His feet and whole-heartedly listen?

    While we do have to tend to the things that life demands, and even His calling, He doesn't want us to forsake our relationship with Him.

  13. Hi Mindy:

    This post makes one thing perfectly clear:

    Marthas are all enablers.
    It’s not like Martha had a choice.
    Someone had to cook the meal.
    This Martha at least asked for an intervention for all the good it did her!

    There are 'givers' in this world and there are 'takers'. There are 'takers' because there are enablers. And the enablers are the first to come to the defense of the 'takers'.

    Without Martha there would be no Mary.

    I will not enable Mary.
    I’d rather offer my appreciation to Martha, Lord knows, she probably sees so little of it.

    I’m with Luther: each Christian should interpret the Bible directly.