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Luke 10:38-42 | Mary and Martha

The passage in focus this week is Luke 10:38-42, which says:


“Now it happened as they went that He [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”


And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”


1) Mary's choice to listen


Many of us will invite Jesus into our homes--these tents that we traverse through life with; our living temples that we carry out our existence in--but then fail to spend actual quality time in His presence. This is the problem the passage is acknowledging: do we have an attentive, present, and loving relationship with God, or do we fail to give Him the time with us that He is really seeking?


In Mary, we see a good example of what it means to have an attentive, present, and loving relationship with Christ. Simply going off of the passage, Mary was just sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him. While she had the privilege of being in the physical presence of Christ, the principle is still the same for us. To have the relationship with God that He wants us to have, we have to be willing to sit at His feet and simply listen. This does not mean we should enter prayer/meditation and expect God to speak to us, or expect Him to audibly say something.


Sometimes the best listening is just being still. There is a reason Scripture says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). If we sincerely and honestly want to enter into the presence of God, then we cannot let our own will and expectations get in the way of what God is wanting to do. In this way, we can sit at Jesus’ feet in the same manner that Mary did.


Another truth that we can garner from Mary’s actions is her ability to hear Christ’s word. Oftentimes, I believe, we are so caught up in listening for what we want to hear, that we make ourselves incapable of hearing what God is actually speaking. In Mary’s case, her ability to hear Jesus’ word was intertwined with her posture of sitting at His feet and listening. When we approach the Throne of grace in a humble manner--not seeking to exert our own will upon our relationship or conversation with God--then we allow Him to speak into our heart the words that actually need to be said. And when God is able to do His work within us, we will hear His word more clearly and listen more attentively; “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Can we seek God honestly, sit at His feet, and listen for what He has to say?


2) Martha's choice to languish


On the other hand, we have a prime example in Martha of what it looks like to have a relationship with Jesus that fails to give Him the attentiveness that He is desiring. Martha, in her own eyes--and, justifiably, by all standards of the world--was doing something good for Jesus and the others who she invited into her house. But, while her actions were outwardly serving others, she was distracted from what really mattered. This is reflected in her speech and the posture of her heart: “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).


Martha finally comes to Christ, but it is not to listen; Martha brings her own will and seeks to exert it upon God. This is seen by her first question, in which she is not truly concerned about the service given to the guests, but rather, in the lack of service coming from Mary. This concern from Martha stems from her justification that she is doing the good thing that should be done: serving her guests tirelessly and anxiously. Martha’s will was the standard that defined what is good for herself, and therefore her desire to serve her guests was rooted in the wrong reason.


When our heart is rooted in the wrong reason, we will not be able to sit at Christ’s feet and listen. In Martha’s case, and in the words of Jesus, she was “worried and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Ultimately, these worries and troubles of Martha are due to her choosing to walk her own way rather than Christ’s. And in choosing her own way and feeling justified in it, Martha felt validated enough to then question God. Martha took her moral framework and used it to question God’s care for her own situation, and then tried to convince Jesus to do what she wanted Him to do.


The focus of Martha is on everything but Jesus; the One answer to her problems is the one person she is not giving her full attention to. Martha has a Person in her house who will change the very foundations of the world in every way, and yet she is consumed with medial tasks that are not even recorded in Scripture. If we are so consumed with our own concerns and worries, and feel so justified in ourselves and what we think is right, we will be going to God asking for dust to drink, when He is wanting to give us rivers of living water.


3) Choose wisely

After having looked at the truth behind Mary’s and Martha’s actions, we can more clearly understand why Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Where Mary chose Jesus, Martha did not. When we humble ourselves, sit at the feet of God, and listen to what He is saying, we find the fountain of life. When we choose to walk our own way, we will find trouble and worry even in the little things. The “good part” that Mary chose that Jesus identified is Himself; Mary chose to remain by Jesus and be concerned about His concerns. And Christ’s concerns in the passage were not dealing with the medial tasks that Martha was consumed by.


If we are too busy in our day-to-day lives to give Jesus our time and attention, then we are being like Martha in the passage. There are an endless amount of excuses we can come up with as to why we are too busy to spend time with God, but we know that “God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Martha provides us with a great example that we can learn from, but also a sobering lesson to be aware of: we can claim to know Christ and invite Him into our life, but if we do not find time to sit at His feet and listen to Him, then we are allowing other things in life to get in the way of what is truly good. Whether Martha was trying to impress her guests through her service, or just trying to be a good host, the outcome is still the same when our intentions are rooted in the wrong reason: trouble and worry.


But praise be to God that the remedy to our troubles and our worries is only a prayer away. Mary chose the “good part”--which was Jesus--by sitting at His feet and listening, and when we choose God, He “will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). When God is speaking life into our hearts, the troubles and worries of this world will pass away. In Jesus, we are given the light of life--if God is for us, who can be against us (John 8:12, Romans 8:31)? What do we have to fear? Bring your concerns, worries, doubts, and fears and cast them at the feet of Jesus; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Christ is enough, and we can share in His abundance when we seek Him.