I’ve always struggled with the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. And by “struggle” I mean disliked. Instead of focusing on the meaning of the story, I was relating to a character’s specific shortcomings that I recognized in my own life but also didn’t want to change. That is until one day when the meaning behind the story hit me and how I should apply it to my own life. It’s then that I had to ask myself, “Was I living like Mary or Martha?”
We meet Mary and Martha when Jesus and His disciples passed through the village of Bethany. Jesus already knew them and their brother Lazarus well and even considered them close friends. Hearing that Jesus was in their village Martha – being a generous and kind woman – ran out to meet Him and invite the group into her home.
While Mary’s heart was in the right place, it’s no surprise that she soon became overwhelmed. Here she was trying to feed and care for a group of 13 in addition to her own family. Just as she’s looking for a hand from Mary she notices her laughing and enjoying her time sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha did what most sisters would do in that situation – she got annoyed.
Perhaps she tried to wave Mary into the kitchen to get some help, or even less subtly asked her to do so. Whatever the case Martha’s annoyance escalated until she snapped – and complained to Jesus about her sister.
“It’s not fair”
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
I sympathize with Martha. I’m more introverted so if I have company over it’s more likely that I will be working on the meal or making sure they have something to drink rather than sitting down and socializing. Small talk has never come easily to me and I find it easier to serve people than chat with them. Perhaps Martha was the same way.
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However, I sympathize with Martha too because I also get annoyed when it feels like others won’t help, or when people are too busy chatting to notice MY needs. (Yikes, you can see how selfish that sounds already.) Every time I read the story prior to my revelation, I was blinded by what I thought was an injustice that I missed the point of the story entirely.
That service is good, but worship is better.
Instead of agreeing with her that Mary needs to help, Jesus responds, “Martha Martha. You are worried and upset about many things but you really only need to worry about one thing! Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.”
First, I love how Jesus responds. Instead of berating Martha, He gently and lovingly points out her error. He knew Martha loved Him and despite her wrong attitude, gave her a lot of grace.
I too am grateful for the grace Christ pours on me when I make a mistake. Instead of getting angry or stomping off, He calmly shows me my error, letting me learn from my mistakes instead of feeling like a failure. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve sure made quite a few in my lifetime. So, I’m sure we can all thank God for the grace He shows us when we mess up!
But now, what is it that Mary chose that was better? You would think serving other people would be high on the list. But no, while service is good, Mary instead chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and soak in His presence.
Learning to Check our Priorities
Through the story, Jesus is reminding us how we need to check our priorities too. I can be a Martha when I have people over, but we can all be Martha’s in many other ways as well.
We can get so caught up in the busyness of life that we neglect to spend time at Jesus’ feet. God created work and it is good. But sometimes it consumes us too. We all need a job to pay our bills but we also must not forget whom we are ultimately serving.
Volunteering and taking care of the needy are also honorable pursuits. But we must not let the act of service overshadow things that are better for our faith – or worse – become a god to us.
Martha serving Jesus and the disciples was good, but she was missing out on sometimes better. Service is often our faith put into action and Christ’s love pouring out from us. Here in DC (or any city) there are no shortages or places to serve or volunteer. Even there Jesus is reminding us that service to our community is good, but spending time in His Word, praying, fasting and listening to His voice is better.
Good vs. Better
Or perhaps you’re even a stay-at-home mom who constantly strives to create the perfect home and family. There too Jesus says, “forget the dishes right now and come to sit at my feet.” For more encouragement, here is a 31-day challenge for having a Martha home the Mary way.
Notice also that Christ admonishes Martha for worrying, not serving. He is not saying that we should stop going to work, or giving our boss our best, or serving at the homeless shelter or stop cleaning the kitchen. Instead He says we must not worry about our to-do lists (or call out other people for not stepping up!), and instead choose what is more important.
Martha had a heart for serving, but she lost sight of the reason for serving amid the task at hand. When things didn’t go her way she became angry, critical, judgmental and unkind. Martha wasn’t wrong in her serving, just wrong in her response. Jesus wanted her to see that her priorities were in the wrong order. Her service was a distraction from hearing from Christ and we often do the same thing.
Are you Living Like Mary or Martha?
If you’re constantly anxious or worried I might suggest that’s because you’re focusing too much on what appears to be good, instead of what is best in your life. (I know because I often worry about so many things!)
When we feel that way let’s remind ourselves of Mary in the story. She didn’t have a care in the world except not missing a word that Jesus spoke. She knew that nothing could be more important at that moment.
Let’s learn to be more like Martha in our expression of love by serving others. But let’s also strive to be more like Mary in making sure our heart is in the right place and by spending time at Jesus’ feet.
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This post is so relevant to me as a woman. I’m like Martha most often, fretting about what needs to be done, that I rush by without spending time daily with my kids .
When I take the Mary approach and forgo things to do, I feel better spending time in the Word, but then feel overwhelmed because I’m behind.
I think balance is the key and maybe season of life too.
I enjoyed this post!
Thanks, Julie! I couldn’t agree more. I also think that if we make worshipping God number one, the other items in our life will fall into place better.
I am most like Martha. I have a “Mary” husband. Since having grandchildren, I have consciously let go of all the “to dos” and spend quality time with them. The messes can be cleaned up later. Yes, I still have to fight with the everyday stuff, but have tried to-take the time to be involved with the “important”.
Deb Wolf says
I’m joining you in celebrating His grace. Thanks so much for joining the Faith ‘n Friends Blog Hop! You’ve blessed me!
Thank you, Deb!
Debbie Kitterman says
Sarah – Sometimes I am Mary and sometimes I am Martha – but I lean naturally more toward Martha – I want to be more like Mary though. Thanks for some good things to ponder and consider .. Blessings Your neighbor today at #TItus2Tuesday
Debbie Kitterman says
oops – auto correct – I’m your neighbor not your highborn :/ have no idea where that came from – hahaha – well at least it was good for a laugh or two.. maybe? blessings
haha definitely! 🙂
I’m such a Mary. I don’t care about the details and would much rather laze around hanging out with Jesus. Which is a burden of it’s own and my messy house will prove it.
I just love the phrase “laze around and hang with Jesus.” I think I need more of that in my life! 🙂
I need to develop more of both
Oh the woes of finding that perfect balance! Some days I am a Mary and other days a complete Martha! I’m glad Jesus stays the same 🙂 Great post and much to think about for sure!
Sheila, that’s true. We could be either one depending on the situation
Does it count if I get great food placed on the table first and after that spend rest of my time with our guest. I hear your struggle.
Candy – that actually sounds like a pretty good compromise!
This is such a great post! And I’m totally more like a Martha, especially when it comes to trying to achieve too much and start worrying about things that don’t matter. And I love how you pointed out that the Lord didn’t rebuke for serving, He rebuked her for worrying. That is so so good!
Thanks, Kaycee! I wanted to remind myself that I am not to stop serving, but instead worrying about doing things perfectly in my own life.
Carrie Willard says
Very much Mary. Sometimes I bemoan my lack of girly skills (I am not good at decorating or making things pretty). I can’t throw a dinner party without being a nervous wreck. I’m simple. But that’s ok. 🙂
I’m definitely Martha, but WANT to be Mary! It is hard to change myself- suppose I should start praying about that!
I get it…I’m still trying to be Mary! haha
Amy Terry says
“Service is good, worship is better.” – I love that! I wrote about these 2 sisters a few weeks ago…https://refocusedbiblestudy.com/2017/01/27/refocused-on-home-our-one-thing-%EF%BB%BF/
Thank you for this! I am for sure more of a Martha fretting over what needs to be done! This made me see things a little more clear with my fretting ways. Thank you!
I am soo Martha, worship is more important than service and ooh how I need to just sit in the presence of our Lord, I am visiting you today from Blogging with Heart
Ha, Jennifer I am Martha too (fortunately, unfortunately) haha
What a beautiful, reflective post. I remember growing up hearing the story of Martha and Mary and feeling annoyed because Mary was sitting around while Martha was doing all the work 😉 I guess that would mean I’m more of a Martha, so I should work on my Mary skills.
I was always annoyed at the story too. haha!
It’s been a slog to be more like Mary when I’m a Martha at heart, but I feel like I’m getting there. My dirtier-than-I’d-like-kitchen attests to this many days, lol.