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Martha or Mary?

Posted by on February 12, 2018


I have a love-hate relationship with the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10.  I love Jesus’ sense of humor and his patience as he speaks to Martha.  I can picture her, red faced, hair a mess, apron dirty, ticked off. I can see Mary, nails perfect, clean outfit, totally relaxed sitting near Jesus listening to His teaching.  I understand, even (I think!), the point Jesus is making when he tells Martha that “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”

Yes, I get that spending time learning and listening to my Savior is the highest priority.  I understand that I need to rest in His provision.  I need to wait on the Lord.

BUT.  If both Martha and Mary had spent the day at Jesus’ feet, there’d have been a lot of hungry people in that house, dishes would have cluttered the counters, the laundry would have been oozing out of the hamper and down the hallway, the bathroom would have been smelly.  What then? Someone needed to wait on the Lord! (See, that word is perfect because it has two very different meanings!)

When I get to heaven, (because I highly doubt that I am ever going to truly understand it until then!), I look forward to sitting down with Jesus and having Him explain this to me – with small words so that I can really understand. I relate and appreciate Martha so much more than I do Mary. Martha and I are kindred spirits.  It’s not that I don’t want to obey my Lord and Creator when He tells me something.  I do. I do spend time listening – reading His word, in prayer….  I just can’t quite grasp how to balance the trusting and waiting on the Lord – the sitting at His feet – with performing the jobs I need to do to navigate my life and each individual day.

Since the hurricanes, I’ve wrestled with the whole Martha/Mary feud a lot. So much has been out of my hands and in His.  I’ve told myself that I need to just wait.  Just ‘let go and let God’.  Okay.  So I did that for four weeks waiting on FEMA/SBA to conclude some paperwork.  Then the Martha in me reared up and I started making phone calls.  What I found out was that our file had slipped through some crack and had I not rattled the right cages with my calls, we’d still be waiting, not on the Lord but on someone to get to the bottom of their in box and realize they needed to do something. Hmmm.  Martha rules!

I guess for now the lessons I’m learning revolve around compromise. I’ll recognize that salvation is a gift and that a clean house or folded laundry or a blog each Monday don’t qualify me for eternity.  For that I can patiently wait for God’s grace and rest in His mercy.  But, like Martha, I’m going to look around and recognize that I have work to do as well, and I’m going to get it done.

2 Responses to Martha or Mary?

  1. S

    When I first read this one ages ago it reminded me of the story of Cain and Abel. In both cases, God accepted one and not the other. Similar to Mary and Martha. Both are doing totally reasonable things (Raising animals, growing food/listening to God, serving food). So Martha’s admonishment seemed as sudden as Cain’s without extra context.

    But the thing that hit me was that Mary and Martha and Lazarus were all siblings. Jesus hung out with them. He had a special bond with all three. I mean, he wept and raised Lazarus from the dead. He was close to them on a personal level (John points that out). So, then I looked at the story as if all of them were close and familial (Jesus/Mary/Martha). The story changed a bit for me. Jesus wasn’t just rolling his typical itinerant teaching gig, he was staying with close friends. And Martha was still flitting around and was distracted by making preparations, serving everyone–and just not focusing on the ‘now.’

    I don’t think his scolding was a commentary on her being *practical*. I think it was a jibe at her being *formal*. They were family. He could go grab some bread out of the basket himself. He’d been there plenty of times. She didn’t need to spend so much effort ‘being a hostess’ and making things perfect. She needed to open herself up and listen. She was focused on the aesthetic and the tradition. And she shouldn’t have been.

    I think Martha was getting caught up being what she *thought* the world told her she should be (Home-maker, servant, etc), rather than what she should be (putting her relationship with God first above the external expectations of what she should be.)

    I (personally) don’t believe that Jesus was questioning her work ethic. He was a fisherman and carpenter–a man who understood the work of necessity well. He was questioning her motivation. What was she trying to prove with her fancy finger sandwiches she copied off of Pintrest? She was caught up in appearing how she should, rather than doing what she should.

    • Donna Coulson

      Wow! That’s a brand new way of looking at it for me, and very insightful! It makes so much more sense from this perspective! The more I think about it, the more comfortable I feel with the whole story. (Love the pinterest reference…I so often get caught up in what and who I should be by the world’s standards as opposed to God’s.
      Thank you so much!

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