38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
Mary comes across as a person passionate about the things that count. When Jesus comes to visit, she knows she is expected to help Martha with the food and drinks, but how often does the God of the universe drop in for tea and crumpets (or whatever they had that day)! She was eager to hear the answers to questions on the Scriptures. Wild horses could not drag her from the room! She consciously decided to ignore the unwritten rules, obligations, and expectations to help Martha in the kitchen. There are higher priorities than laying the table and pouring drinks. I am sure Mary had questions stored up in her heart. She was waiting for the words of Jesus to feed her soul. Mary was right in putting the Word of God as her highest priority.
Martha strikes me as someone whose self-esteem was bound up in what she did for the Lord. She was a task-oriented person, and there was nothing wrong with that. We need task-oriented people. God has gifted them in their inner DNA to be like that. It was her home, so she felt responsible for treating the Master right. After all, if the Lord Jesus was coming to your house, wouldn't you try to prepare a nice spread of food to be hospitable?
I can picture Martha banging the pots around, making plenty of noise to remind Mary of her duties in the kitchen. When Martha made her outburst to Jesus, she was as steamed up as her kitchen. Martha's irritability grew to the point where she began commanding the Lord to tell Martha what to do. Her focus shifted from trying to get Mary’s attention to blaming Jesus, accusing the Lord of not caring: “She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (v. 40 emphasis mine).
Martha wanted Jesus to redirect Mary; however, the Lord wished to redirect Martha! We must give room to allow people to be different than ourselves. We are all given different temperaments for a reason, i.e., to learn to live with one another's moods. It wasn't that Martha was wrong and Mary right. The lesson as to why this passage of text is even in the Scriptures is to show us we should imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. To achieve a balance in both we must put first things first.
Martha felt like she had been left to do everything and felt let down because Mary was not pulling her share of the load. She thought this was unfair. Have you felt like that before? Some of us have heard these words from our parents: “Life is unfair! Get used to it!” The Lord did not respond the way Martha wanted Him to, however. He got straight to the heart of the issue. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “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" (vs. 41-42). How tenderly He responded to her. These are not words of anger or disappointment leveled at Martha, and the speaking of her name twice reflects deep emotion on His part.
When the Lord said that only one thing was needed, some say Christ was only after one thing on Martha's menu instead of an elaborate meal. Bread and water would have been sufficient. It is more logical, though, to interpret the "one thing" as Mary's hungering attitude after Christ's presence. Time was short. The time of Jesus' crucifixion was drawing near, and food was not a priority, but Martha and Mary were! They were His priority! The Lord did not stop by Martha's house for the food but primarily to spend time with them.
What if Jesus were coming to your house today? Would you be too busy for Him, or are you a Mary and love to sit at His feet? Keith Thomas