Living like Mary in a Martha World
Mary and Martha are the names of two women in the New Testament. They were sisters of Lazarus (the one whom Jesus brought back from the dead), and they were friends of Jesus. There was this time that Jesus went to visit their home…
Luke 10:38–42 – Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (NKJV)
The thing that always surprises me about this account is that at first it seems that that Martha was the good one! She wanted to make Jesus feel welcome. No doubt she had cleaned the house from top to bottom. She had set the table, bought the food, and with Jesus finally there, she wanted to make sure the meal was cooked to perfection! Why then does Jesus rebuke her, telling her that “one thing is needed is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.”? What was Mary doing while Martha was running around? Mary was just sitting “at Jesus’ feet,” listening to him! Jesus says that Mary had chosen the right thing in that moment, not Martha, and that the benefits of what Mary had chosen “will not be taken away from her.”
This is where the story ends. We aren’t told what Martha did next. No doubt she was shocked at the Lord’s rebuke. Jesus wasn’t just trying to teach Martha a valuable lesson that day, He wants us to learn from this story as well. Keep in mind that everything written in the Scriptures is “written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
We live in a Martha world where there is built in expectations to “do” and “accomplish” things each say. Tasks that “need” to be done. Goals that must be obtained. Even in the work of the ministry, there is a subtle pressure to “do more” and we can run around like Martha, with every good intention of serving the Lord, all-the-while missing the one thing that is needed: Spending daily time with Jesus, listening to him! What I find striking about the story of Mary and Martha is how it says that Martha was “distracted” from doing what Mary was doing, and when Jesus spoke to her he observed that she was “worried and troubled about many things.” Was Martha worried and troubled about many things because she had failed to do the one thing that mattered most? Perhaps so. To listen and hear the words of Jesus is of primary importance! Jesus’ words to Martha imply that she had a choice. She could have chosen to listen to Jesus but she didn’t, not because she didn’t want to, but because she was pulled away by other things. The tasks at hand “distracted her” so that she eventually did what was urgent but not what was most important.
I once read a booklet called the Tyranny of the Urgent, in which the author spoke about how we get distracted by all the “urgent” things of life to the point that we’re unable to just spend time talking to and listening to Jesus, letting his teaching and words soak into our scattered and busy minds. How about you? How are you doing in that area? If you find that most days you’re just too busy to read the Bible or pray, then the words of Jesus to Martha are also his words to you today: “One thing is needed!”
Get alone and listen to the Lord, by opening up His Word, letting it sink into your heart and mind. As you do, you will discover that the resources you need for the day come from Him, not you. The peace, joy, guidance, and strength that you need will be found as you spend time with your Maker, Your Savior, and Your Lord. We need to live more like Mary in this Martha world.