Dr. Luke records a time in which Jesus stopped into the home of some trusted ministry supporters.
Martha and Mary are sisters. These are most likely the same whose brother’s name was Lazarus (the one over whom Jesus wept). As is the case with most siblings, these two have their own unique personalities.
They are both good and godly for obvious reasons. It appears from the context of Scripture that their faith was in God and their trust was in Christ. Think of them as, just as saved as any contemporary Christian. They both loved Jesus. Now, notice how the Spirit quickly reveals their differences through Luke’s pen.
Martha appears to be the older of the two and she was a willing worker. She knew how to get things done and was not afraid of hard work. It’s safe to say that she was a woman whose home was always presentable for company. Immediately after welcoming Jesus, she went about the holiness of hospitable service.
Then there is the younger sister with the given name of Mary. While Martha is a doer, we see that Mary is more of a dreamer. Mary had an inclination toward spiritual things. Without a second thought, she sat at the feet of our Lord in order to hear His words.
When Jesus entered their home, each of these good women did what came naturally to them, but one is not more saved than or better than the other. They are both valuable and loved by Jesus.
Their differences are quite obvious to one other. Martha, the elder is quickly frustrated with her younger sister. Martha just knows that since Jesus and the ministry team have shown up that there is a lot of work to be done for this occasion. Mary just knows that when Jesus is in your house, you don’t want to miss one single word that falls from His lips. Martha’s priority is serving Jesus, while Mary’s priority is sitting before Jesus.
Let me paraphrase Martha (imagine a condescending voice that only a younger sibling would recognize). Lord, please remind Mary that there’s a lot of work since we have guests and she should be doing her part. To Martha’s credit, she brought her frustration to the Lord rather than making vain attempts to conceal it with deep sighs and eye rolls.
Our Lord’s response to Martha’s request gives further insight into her heart. Martha’s choice to prioritize service was the source of her frustration. Martha was a worrier and it wasn’t just about this event and these guests. Jesus seemed to point out that she had way too many anxious thoughts. Praise God, He was present to help her. He is the One who says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light“ (Matt. 11:28-30).
Jesus instructed Martha by letting her know that she needed His help more than Mary’s. Mary was doing the right thing at the right time. Mary’s portion could not be taken away because time spent with Jesus has eternal value. Hearing the word of God is both needful and necessary, and it brings His favor. To paraphrase the Master – it takes more than bread to stay alive. What mankind really needs is a steady diet of God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).
Yes, there is work to be done, but the most efficient way to accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God is to let it flow from an experience of worship. Hear the word of God, sit in His presence, and then you can accomplish the work of God with the ease and anointing of His Spirit.
There’s no need for choosing the Mary or the Martha lifestyle. Why can’t we have both? Our Lord never condemned Martha. He was there to help her. The need is to simply get into God’s Word before we go into God’s work.
Thank God for the Martha’s and the Mary’s of the Kingdom of God. Each has different inclinations and gifts, and each is deeply loved by our Lord. Which one of these two are you most like?