Oh, Martha and Mary! The sisters who both love Jesus but react so differently to His presence! Who is right? Are either of them “wrong”? Let’s discover together what we can learn as we study Luke 10:38-42.
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On this, the Wednesday editon of the Women World Leaders’ podcast, we are currently walking through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as we examine the life of Jesus. Today’s teaching is from Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42. Before we dive into scripture, let’s pray…
Dear Most Holy and ever-present God, we thank you for guiding us through this lesson today. God, the scripture we are studying today is short, but it is SO packed with meaning. God, I pray that you guide my words. You know what we each need to hear from you today, and I ask that you use this time to speak to us. Guide each of our thoughts as we listen. Help us to hear YOUR heart, YOUR instruction, YOUR wisdom. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Today’s scripture is just 5 verses, but as I prayed, it is chock full of lessons for us.
Luke has grouped this teaching with two other teachings, which we have already studied. Luke 10, verses 1-24 give the lesson that, as Christians, we are to be ambassadors of and for Christ. In these verses, Luke tells of Jesus sending out the 72 messengers, and then he tells of their return – and that the ambassadors are filled with joy because they saw how God faithfully worked through them on their mission. Then, in Luke 10, verses 25-37, we learn the importance of being a good neighbor through the story of the good Samaritan.
So we’ve seen the importance, as Christ-followers, of being an ambassador for Christ and of being a good neighbor – the importance of working for the Kingdom.
With that in mind, let’s step forward into Luke 10:38-42 to see what our third lesson is. The New Living Translation states…
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and they come to Bethany, just a few miles east of the city, where three siblings, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, live. Jesus was good friends with this family and often stayed with them. It seems that they were known for their hospitality. And I don’t know if the house was very crowded or extremely large, but let’s get the picture that there were at least 16 people there.
If you have ever hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas for your family, you know how much work it is to feed a large group. When my family gets together, we do it potluck style – everyone is responsible for bringing one or two items. This helps alleviate the burden on the host and hostess, for sure. But in this case, and in this culture, Martha, as the homeowner and hostess, was responsible for doing all the food preparation. And Jesus was a very important guest. Later, scripture clearly tells us that Martha knew exactly who Jesus was, the Messiah, so of course she was going to go all out to serve Him and His disciples. Not only was there food to prepare, there were also beds to be made up, water to be brought in, and lamps to fill with oil. There is no doubt that Martha had been working for days before Jesus’ arrival.
And, we are told, she welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home. She was pleased they were there, ready to enjoy their presence. But before she could rest, she needed to make sure that the food for the next meal was prepared.
Martha had obviously hoped that her sister, Mary, would help her. Culturally, this WAS the woman’s job…and we can guess that Mary DID help, but when it came to putting on the finishing touches, Mary went and sat at the feet of Jesus, leaving the remainder of the work to Martha.
Let’s focus on Mary for a moment.
Sitting at the feet of a rabbi, soaking in the learning, was an honorable and esteemed place to be. And culturally, it was meant as a place for men. Women and girls were not allowed to receive any type of formal education. Society was quite segregated between men and women. Women were responsible for birthing babies, raising children, and preparing food. And that is where they gained their honor.
But Mary stopped her work to sit at the feet of her beloved Jesus. And Jesus welcomed her.
One of the biggest takeaways of this passage is that Jesus’ teachings are not intended for a select group—all are welcome to sit at Jesus’ feet. Today we don’t have the literal feet of Jesus to sit at, but we do have individual and corporate Bible study, prayer, church offerings, Bible schools and seminaries, and, most importantly, the voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus welcomes everyone to come and sit at His feet in whatever way His feet are available to them. He wants us all to come and learn and enjoy a relationship with Him.
A second takeaway is that we are all different. God doesn’t judge us according to our abilities and gifts, so we shouldn’t judge each other either.
Martha got frustrated with Mary because she wasn’t helping her. But Mary was exactly where Jesus wanted her to be.
We are all given different gifts and talents to be used in the body of Christ. Some indeed have the gift of hospitality and service, others lean more toward teaching and preaching. The gift you receive is up to God. And God doesn’t make mistakes.
Mary and Martha were different. Martha thrived on being a hospitable hostess. Mary had a bent for learning. Both were giftings from God – and both were good.
Besides the lessons that Jesus’ teachings are for all of us, and that we are not to judge others’ gifts and abilities, we also learn that even good work can be distracting.
We are all called to do and go for Christ – that simply can’t be denied. There IS much work to be done, including sharing the gospel across the world AND with our neighbors, as Luke has taught us, but we must always be on guard against elevating the work we are called to ABOVE spending time with Jesus.
What Martha was doing was important. She was serving Jesus!! What an amazing honor to prepare a meal for our Lord! It is no wonder that she wanted everything to be just right. But getting it all just right, in this instance, consumed her. We see that because frustration arose within her when Mary went and sat at Jesus’ feet – leaving Martha with the work.
When we are serving Christ in answer to His call and find ourselves frustrated with the way others on our team are serving, our hearts are no longer in the right place.
So what do we do? Martha went to Jesus – which WAS the RIGHT thing to do! She said “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?” If Martha would have stopped right there and listened for a response from Jesus, she would have been golden. I imagine Jesus would have said, “Martha, why don’t you come and sit down, too. We can have dinner later.” And what a different ending THAT would have been!
But after Martha went to Jesus with her frustration, she didn’t pause to let Jesus speak. Instead, she told Jesus what to do, saying…”Tell her to come and help me.”
When our work for the Lord leads us into territory that is frought with frustration, we should absolutely take our concerns to Him, but we should approach Him with an open, teachable heart that is ready to pause and listen to His instructions. We CAN trust that God has everything in His control. The work WILL get done. The dinner, literally or figuratively, WILL be a success—if we respond in obedience with each step.
Even work done FOR Jesus can distract us from spending time WITH Jesus.
Jesus does respond, because Martha takes a breath, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The primary takeaway from this scriputre is that despite the work we are called to, our relationship with the Lord should always be our primary focus.
Martha was busy doing, and she became frustrated. Still, when she went to Jesus, He kindly and graciously pulled her into a deeper relationship with Him.
When we go to Jesus, He will always pull us into a deeper relationship with Him, and no one can take that from us.
Jesus will never stop trying to reach us. He reached Mary where she was, and He reached Martha where she was. And if you pause and listen, He will meet you, wherever you are.
The Christian life requires balance. It requires us to go, be ambassadors for Christ and care for our neighbors—sometimes cooking a meal for many, but it also begs us to pause and allow the Lord to speak to our hearts.
Jesus’ teachings ARE intended for YOU – whether you are a man or woman, a pastor or a prostitute. Jesus’ wants YOU to sit at HIS feet.
Jesus gifting for each of us is different; therefore, the best we can do is do what WE are called to and not judge others.
Jesus doesn’t EVER want our work FOR Him to distract us from our relationship WITH Him.
But most of all, Jesus wants us to pause and listen to Him, trusting He will ALWAYS be there to graciously lead and guide us. As Christians, nothing can take that away from us.
It is clear from this passage just how much Jesus LOVED Martha and Mary. His patient care is almost palpable. I can just envision the kindness in His eyes that entranced Mary and melted Martha’s frustrations. I’m sure glad Martha took a breath long enough to let Jesus speak. I pray that you and I will do the same today.
Dear Jesus…how kind you are. Your kindness is beyond what we can fathom. We just seem to get off course sometimes, intent on going and doing. Let us each rest in your kind presence today. Help us hear your melodious voice and see your eyes running deep with peace and love. Thank you for always pursuing us and loving us. We give you today and thank you for giving us eternity. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.