“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”” – Luke 10:38-42
This passage is probably well-known, and I’ve heard several teachings on it. Nevertheless, I find it to be terribly important and today I want to write about it because I need to apply this lesson in my life.
So, here is a simple list of (a few of)my observations:
1. Martha’s intentions were good, even spiritual First, Martha was hospitable; she invited Christ and His disciples into her home. Hospitality and benevolence are commanded of Christians today and truly please God. How many of us would open our homes to traveling brethren? On short notice? Providing food for the crowd? How many of us are eager to serve?
Also, it’s imperative to keep our minds focused on historical context; many lessons would be lost if we didn’t take the mindset of His audience into consideration. Martha was trying to fulfill her duties as a woman, which she likely would have expected to be pleasing to the Lord, her guest. I think I’ve heard (don’t take my word for it!) that teaching women the Torah was generally looked down upon…how much more displeasing would a woman sitting at the feet of Jesus with men, learning His teachings and neglecting her proper place be?
Christian women who are seeking God’s will, should still be eager to serve and fulfill her duties as Martha was.
2. Martha manifested behaviors that we should avoid Serving others, hospitality, benevolence and selflessness are, like previously stated, commanded from God. Though the message in this text is the principle of seeking God first (see below), this is not to say there will not be times you can’t avoid frustrating situations. When things aren’t going the way we would like, or expect, we can’t give in to anxiety, frustration, complaining, anger or retaliation. Why do I say this?
“Do all things without complaining or disputing.” – Philippians 2:14
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19,20
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” – 1 Peter 3:9
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3
Pride is a nasty deceiver. I don’t think Martha was proud, but those verses above reminded me how the notion that we “deserve” whatever it is we think we deserve can immediately hinder us from pleasing God and manifesting the humble attitude He desires of us.
“It’s easy, however, to tell whether we’ve learned the spirit of servanthood. The test is simply this: how do you react when someone treats you like a servant? If when treated like a servant you react indignantly, you probably don’t see yourself as one, whatever words you may have spoken about the “nobility” of serving others. True servants don’t object when others see them as being what they really are.” – Gary Henry, Enthusiastic Ideas
*SIDE NOTE: The world has succeeded in teaching everyone that they need to be happy, that they deserve the best, that they’re unique and special and that perhaps one of the most tragic things to befall a person would be not getting everything they want in life. Christians, I urge you to guard your heart and mind and be careful who you seek advice from. I’ve quoted this before, but it’s still applicable: “God never called us to be happy, only holy.”
3. Jesus esteemed attention and obedience to His word greater than fulfilling temporal duties As we’ve already determined, Martha’s works are works that are expected of Christians; they are necessary. Consider:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:14-17
However, these “works” alone are useless. Like Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matt. 26:11), there will always be physical needs to be met as long as the Lord allows this earth to remain. Providing dinner and shelter to the needy, or even being so preoccupied with a career to provide for your own needs, however, means nothing when compared to serving God and sharing His truth with others. This means many things. On the one hand, Christians need to have compassion on their neighbors and those that do go without in this world. Yet, if we neglect obedience to God’s word in our daily lives, if we are not seeking the kingdom of God above all else, if we are not making the sacrifices and taking that time to study and pray and find out God’s will, it will not matter how many mouths we have fed, backs we have clothed, travelers we’ve taken in: we will have missed the point.
“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”- 1 Samuel 15:22
4 We should imitate Mary, and choose the good part (daily) When it comes down to it, Mary did what was right. I’m thankful for the account of Mary and Martha, but it is not the only passage that shares this important lesson with us:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33 (the whole chapter is just amazing)
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13
“”He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me…” – John 14:21
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8:36
We know what Martha esteemed higher than the teachings of her Lord, but anything can have undue importance placed upon it, if we aren’t cautious. Let us be diligent in our study and also test ourselves often to be sure we’re giving God the proper placement in priorities.
Neither Mary nor Martha could have understood the will of God the way we can now, as Jesus was in the process of teaching, bringing the new covenant and completing the will of His Father. Yet, Mary was wise and knew she should heed the words of Jesus. Both Mary and Martha had the opportunity but only one took advantage of it. Today (each day), we are in a similar boat: the Bible is the complete revelation of God and within its pages are the answers of salvation and God’s will for all of us. The opportunity is ever-present, but only a few will take advantage of it. Unfortunately, many will follow in the frantic footstep’s of Martha, scurrying to tend to their physical needs and concerns, chasing after worldly goals and expectations, even those who claim to be Christians will ultimately live for the physical, rather than the spiritual.
As I mentioned earlier, I need this lesson. Recently, my mind and heart have been torn, and my sights out of focus. Ironically, what matters most in this life isn’t of this life at all.
I need to humble myself and remember that my life is not my own and my primary concerns are not temporal things.
My life, my aim is to do the will of God.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3