Mary First, There Will Be Plenty of Time for Martha
In the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-41), Martha was the “good sister”–the responsible one. She is the one who opened her home to Jesus–a good deed. She is the one who took care of “all the preparations that had to be made.”
The Greek here for “preparations” (“serving” in KJV) is diakonia, part of the word family from which we get “deacon.” It is also the same diakonia that is a spiritual gift in all four passages that explain the spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:11-12, and 1 Peter 4:10-11). Obviously, serving is a very important part of Christian life! And Martha excelled at serving.
Our passage says that Mary, on the other hand, was content to sit at the feet of Jesus “listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39), or in the KJV, she “heard his word”–that’s logos for “word.”
Was Mary goofing off while her sister worked? Her sister thought so. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work (diakoneo) by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40).
Martha was so practical. She took her work very seriously. She was the mature one. But she was also missing her moment. She was saying, in essence, “Tell her to leave the real presence of Jesus because I need help in the kitchen.”
After a 400-year famine of the Word, the Word had become flesh and was dwelling among the people. The people living in darkness had seen a great light. God’s promise to repay for the years the locusts had eaten was at hand. The empty nets were about to be filled.
And Martha was in the kitchen making dinner. The text say that “Martha was distracted by all the diakonea” (Luke 10:40, italics added).
Making dinner for Jesus seems like such an opportunity. What wouldn’t you give, pay, trade, or barter for such a moment? But the Bible says it was a distraction. Distractions often come disguised as opportunities.
Jesus answered,”Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” He tells Martha, “There will always be work to do, but isn’t it better to be with me?”
For Jesus, the relationship is more important than the task. In fact, the relationship is the task. He says to all people everywhere in every age, “________, _________, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
Jesus did not say, “Come unto me and I will give you more work to do.” We need to tell our men that it is okay just to sit and listen. It’s okay to come just to take a drink. “All you have to do to receive love is show up. You don’t have to do something to be good enough to receive acceptance.”
Jesus has given this as a model for how we can fulfill The Great Commandment. The way of Mary will accomplish what the way of Martha will miss.
Do you need to say to a man who is putting a lot of pressure on himself, you, and/or everyone else, “Jim, Jim, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed”?
Would it improve the climate of your church to teach all your members, “Brothers, Brothers, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed”?
Mary first (logos). There will be plenty of time for Martha (diakonia).
Patrick Morley, PhD
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