In Luke 10:38-41, we have an account of Jesus as a guest in the home of Mary and Martha. When reading this narrative, we are all prone to see ourselves as a Mary, and others as a Martha. I hope you will read the account and have an open mind about what the Lord may want to say to you.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. We don’t know exactly what her reason was for the invitation, but from the context, it seems that Martha wanted a social experience that involved Jesus. She must have thought of Him as someone special, but we left to wonder if she did so in the right way. What was it that Martha treasured that caused her to invite Jesus into her home? Was it Jesus Himself, or Jesus plus something else? It seems that through this narrative we might learn something about ourselves. So let’s make a few observations and comments.
Once in Martha’s house, Jesus was teaching there. Whether or not this was Martha’s intention for Him is unclear, but one thing is sure—she’s more concerned about the gathering being properly served than listening to the Teacher. We can only assume that there may have been other people gathered there in addition to Martha and her sister, Mary. Perhaps the purpose of the invitation was to provide a place where Jesus could teach. Martha was gracious to make her home available for such an event. But once the teaching began, Martha became distracted. She was serving her guests, but failing to listen to the Master. It seems her heart may have been taken captivate by the idea of being seen as a good hostess, or perhaps she was overly concerned that everything be done just right. We don’t really know what owned her desires, but we do know that it wasn’t being close to the Lord Jesus.
Most revealing in all of this is Martha’s response to her sister’s perceived lack of care for what was important to Martha. She saw Mary’s actions as wanting the wrong thing. To Martha, Mary seemed distracted from her duties by Jesus’ teaching. Martha judged Mary on the basis of her own standards derived from her own desires. Martha wanted Mary to follow the rules of her own kingdom.
But there’s more. Martha wanted Jesus to follow the rules of her kingdom as well; she expected not only that Mary would agree with her expectations, but that Jesus would as well. She suggests that if Jesus were properly concerned about the right things, He would have instructed Mary to help her with the serving. Martha instructed Jesus, instead of being taught by Him. She wanted Jesus to bend to her agenda.
What are we to learn from this short narrative? If Mary had truly been serving out of love, serving alone would not have bothered her. Her standard was that serving is a duty, to which all should comply. It is a form of legalism that demands of others what is valued by self. Martha’s sense of injustice did not include one in which the glory of God was at stake. Rather, Martha wanted justice for herself alone.
Martha was “distracted” from Jesus’ teaching, as she was “serving” her guests. She was being a good hostess, but not a good student. Does this reveal anything about the motives of her heart? What was she trying to gain in her “much serving?” What does this tell us about our own hearts? Are you more concerned with serving (out of duty or public recognition) than you are about hearing the Lord speaking to your heart? Are you open to hear what He says about your sin in these sorts of matters? About His grace that is freely given? Where does your affections get pirated by earthy treasure as did Martha?
Look at Mary. She was sitting at the Lord’s feet. There she was close to Him, learning from Him and honoring Him. Jesus commended Mary, saying that she had “chosen the good portion.” But compared to what? Compared to what Martha had chosen, over which she was anxious and troubled. And Jesus also said that what Mary had chosen was necessary. He means for Martha to look at what she was worried about as not necessary, compared to what Mary was focusing on. What is the Lord calling you to pay attention to as you sit at His feet? What is truly necessary?
According to Jesus' estimation, Martha was “anxious and troubled about many things.” What are the many things over which she was troubled? What did she value that was presently threatened in this situation? What did her anxiety in this situation reveal about what she valued? What did her “much serving” reveal about what she valued? What did that serving gain her? These are questions we must all wrestle with when we read a text like this. We must all see the Martha in ourselves. Martha’s problem wasn’t that she was too busy, or worried, or troubled, but that she was wrongly seeking things that were unnecessary.
Notice how Jesus responds to Martha’s anxious, frustrated demands. Knowing the root of Martha's concern was her expectations of other people, based on her misplaced valuing, He gently calls her to look at her own heart and instructs her to value the right things. The result, should she do that, would produce love, not expectations of compliance from others to her. Jesus said Martha’s name twice, so as to suggest gentle concern. He did not skirt the truth, but offered it warmly, knowing Martha’s struggle. The good portion that Mary had chosen would not be taken away from her. Martha’s anxiety and troubled concerns reveal a valuing in things that are vulnerable and temporary.
Do you hear the gentle voice of Jesus telling you to look at Him, learn from Him, seek Him? Do you find yourself being angry with people who seem to be doing less than you? Or people whom you can’t control according to your agenda? Jesus speaks tender words to you and me. He’s calling attention to our anxiety and troubled hearts that crave after human approval, or who look for permanent but only find temporary satisfaction in a job well done. Jesus is calling us to look to Him, learn from Him. Only there will we find what is better and necessary . . . and find peace for our souls.