Martha and Mary: Choosing the Best Thing

The story is familiar to many people.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are names you’d be familiar with if you’ve read about Jesus’ experiences on earth in the Gospels of Luke and John.

What is typically remembered is Jesus’ response to Martha after she calls out her sister for not helping her with tasks for hosting Jesus and the disciples. The interaction between Martha and Jesus is below:

[But 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!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”]

-Luke 10:40-42


Jesus repeating Martha’s name twice reminds me of a parent yelling their child’s’ first AND middle name. As a kid (and maybe even as an adult), you knew that meant it was time to listen.

Lately, I’ve felt a lot like Martha. I’m anxious and distracted. I’m prone to get things done rather than being present and engaged with those around me.

Maybe you can relate.

It’s helpful for us to think back to the context of this passage: Jesus and the disciples have been traveling A LOT. They are dirty, tired, and likely smelly from walking all around preaching. They would not be the most welcome of guests to many of us—think of the mess they would have tracked inside! Keeping this in mind, it’s easier for us to see Martha’s perspective rather than judging her for being distracted by her guests. She sees needs and she wants to meet these needs. Not only that, but these are important guests that she wants to impress. It’s understandable for her to be focused on what needs to be done and feeling the responsibility to do these things herself.

It’s also worth noting that Martha is the one that invites these guests in, according to earlier in this passage. “Jesus and his disciples were on their way, and they came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home.” (Verse 38)

My tendency is to view Martha as a distracted busybody who is only focused on tasks rather than people. However, that’s not the whole picture! She is concerned with people to the extent that it drives her to tasks—and then she doesn’t even enjoy her guests!

How often is this us?

We have positive intentions, but then get distracted and completely change what we do—we get distracted by what’s truly important.

On the other hand, we have Mary. She “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” (Verse 39).

She is focused on Jesus.

Jesus eventually tells Martha that Mary has chosen what is better. What does that mean?

I’d venture that Jesus is reminding both of these women of who He is. In light of who Jesus is, Mary is in awe.

When I’m more Martha than Mary, it’s usually because I’ve become self-focused and have tunnel vision. By doing this, I miss “the best thing” in exchange for the most “urgent” thing.

Two books that speak to this are Tyranny of the Urgent and Crazy Busy. Both books illustrate what the story of Martha and Mary shows us—that we all have choices of how we spend our time, and it often becomes distracting and overwhelming.

I want to challenge myself (and you) to learn from these women. We need to be able to sit with Jesus and be present with Him–and this can be difficult. I know there are so.many.things. vying for our time and attention.

Long work hours that make you want to do nothing once you’re home.

Kiddos that exhaust and challenge you.

Classes and deadlines that seem impossible and never-ending.

Relationships that lack boundaries and add emotional strain.

I get it. I do–because I’m right there with you. I need to learn from Martha and Mary are their interactions with Jesus.

I’m thankful that God is showing me ways in which I am letting “things” come before “the best thing”.

So, let’s hold each other accountable and seek to submit to the fact that the best thing is what we really want.

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6 thoughts on “Martha and Mary: Choosing the Best Thing

  1. Thanks for writing about this. I wrote several posts about the two sisters recently myself. I’m glad you have mentioned Martha’s positive qualities, as it’s all too easy for people to paint her in a negative light and dismiss her entirely. I think the implication is that she could have also been listening to Jesus part of the time, but she was distracted by other tasks.

    I definitely know it’s easy to be distracted. I don’t think one has to even be occupied with tasks or being “busy” with other things. Often when I’m meant to be having a quiet time, my mind can start wandering and I might begin to check my phone, look at my to-do list etc. I haven’t moved from the spot at all and am technically still “sitting at the Lord’s feet”, but in actuality, I’m not anymore, because my thoughts have moved away.

  2. This is such a good reminder. So often I feel as though I deeply desire to be Mary but my actions show that I’m really being Martha. Both loved Jesus, both wanted to serve him, but I need to find that balance that he approves of. Thank you!

  3. Such a good thought that we most certainly need reminding of at times. I know when life gets extra busy, there seems to often be an adjustment period where we have to make sure our arrangements don’t come first.

Let me know what you think!

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