When Jesus and His disciples came to the village of Bethany Martha welcomed them into her home and began preparing dinner for them. She was apparently an accomplished hostess and probably had the gift of hospitality. But she was distracted with all her preparations and when she asked the Lord Jesus to tell her sister Mary to help her, He gently chided her saying: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
I know women who take offense at this story. These ladies are the matriarchs of the potluck; they are the ones who prepare refreshments for funerals and take meals to shut-ins. They faithfully provide treats and snacks for coffee hours, small groups, youth groups, Bible studies, and ladies events. They understand Martha’s desire to put a nice meal on the table for her guests. They can imagine she wanted the meat to be cooked just right, not overdone and dry, the vegetables to be crisp tender, and the bread to be warm right out of the oven. They also relate to her frustration when she was buzzing around the kitchen and looked out to see her sister just sitting there! Then when the Lord told her Mary had chosen the good part, these ladies understand why Martha was indignant.
“Martha received the correction from Jesus, had an attitude adjustment, and continued to use her gift of hospitality in the right way.”
So, what was the problem here? Martha, apparently, treated Jesus the same way she treated other guests. She wanted everything to be just right. Mary, on the other hand, treated Jesus like who He was—the Lord. I assume Mary did not sit at the feet of other guests listening to them, but this was unique because her guest was unique. Whether or not Martha and Mary witnessed Jesus when He fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, they had certainly heard about it. He could have easily provided a meal for His men (and the others in the house). And maybe Mary rested in this, but not Martha.
However, there is a lovely follow-up to this story in the Gospel of John. In chapter 11, John describes in detail the miracle Jesus performed when He raised Lazarus from the dead. This situation also involved Martha and Mary since Lazarus was their brother. We know Jesus had a special affection for these friends, Scripture records “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). And their grief in this situation touched Him deeply. What unbounded joy reverberated in the sisters when their brother walked out of the tomb alive! How they must have bowed before Jesus in worship.
Shortly after this Martha and Mary hosted a special supper to honor Jesus for this miracle and to celebrate Lazarus’ return from the dead. “So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him” (John 12:2). Notice that little phrase: Martha was serving. I am so glad John included this! I choose to believe Martha received the correction from Jesus, had an attitude adjustment, and continued to use her gift of hospitality in the right way. She could have easily stomped off and said, “Fine, fix your own dinner!” How many of us would have done just that? But it appears she humbled herself and expressed her love for the Lord in the way she knew best, by serving. The fact that John did not record any rebuke for Martha when she was serving at this dinner seems to indicate things had changed.
“Do we let our efficiency or expertise take precedence over our worship? It is so easy to do. But there is a better way...”
This passage also records Mary’s presence at the dinner. She expressed her adoration for the Lord, but in the way she knew best. She bowed at His feet anointing them with perfume and wiping them with her hair. (John 12:3). It seems clear that Martha and Mary had different personalities; and their gifts coordinated with their personalities. Martha appears to be the one who could take charge and get things done while Mary appears to be the quiet contemplative one. But Jesus wanted them both to love Him, worship Him, and serve Him in the ways He had designed for them.
How do we serve the Lord? Do we tackle our tasks with the same approach we use for any other activities? Do we let our efficiency or expertise take precedence over our worship? It is so easy to do. But there is a better way. We can take the Martha approach by serving the Lord with our gifts and with the right attitude.
Sometimes I think go-getters feel put down when they are admonished to take Mary’s place of contemplation; and, as I mentioned, they can get a little huffy. But, isn’t it wonderful to see a proper expression of worship through service? I doubt the Lord wanted to shut down Martha and require her to become another Mary. Rather He looked for the right heart attitude and when that appeared, He received her service.
It is the same with us. When God designed each of us, He gave us certain personality traits and abilities. And then when we become Christians the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts. These are all to be dedicated to the Lord and used in ways that please Him. And we do that when we use our gifts as a means worship through joyful service.