The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done.
Finally, she went to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!" The Lord answered, "Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her."
We all know this story, perhaps so well that we may forget to dwell on it. If your response to hearing or reading a passage of scripture is to say, “I’ve already heard that one”, then you are in danger of seriously missing out. The Holy Spirit releases truth as we delve into scripture, reading it, reciting it, hearing it. The more we do these things, the more the Holy Spirit reveals the truth that lies behind the words. At first reading it may seem that Mary’s good, and Martha’s the wrong ‘un, but we will still feel a little uneasy about it because we’re probably on Martha’s side!
Perhaps we accept that Martha may have stepped out of line, and that we should all be sitting at Jesus’ feet, because Jesus told Martha that Mary had done the better thing. But the question still remains: can a potato peel itself?
Martha knew the ancient law of hospitality. It wasn’t only Jesus who turned up that day – his disciples were there, too. I don’t suppose they’d brought any food with them, or stopped off at the take-away on the way over. Here was a crowd that needed feeding, and over in the kitchen (in the possibly one-roomed house!) was Martha doing what she knew was the right and proper thing.
She was overwhelmed. I don’t think she was overwhelmed with anger with her sister or with Jesus, but she was being swallowed up in the waves of duty, trying to do the work of two. She may be feeling a little self-righteous – she addresses Jesus and not her sister. (Where else do we hear people speaking like this to Jesus?) If Mary had walked away from her duty of hospitality, why not speak to her directly? It’s never a good idea to address Jesus from the position of your own self-righteousness.
Jesus speaks kindly to her – he would never abuse his host, and he simply tells Martha the truth – Mary has done the better thing.
Many Christians will describe themselves as a Martha, identifying with the pull of duty and the shame of failing to provide, rather than as a Mary. Anyone presenting as a Mary in your fellowship may not be universally accepted by the Martha faction. Can the church flowers arrange themselves?
What would have happened if both sisters came to Jesus’ feet?
What would have happened if both sisters got on with the cooking?
Was Mary the one who knew better in all things?
What is the one thing that Jesus says is necessary?
Father God, so often I chose the busy thing, the duty thing, or in fact anything that will keep me from coming into your presence and sitting at your feet. Warm my heart, Lord. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.