Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)
As we continue to make our way through Luke, it is helpful to keep in mind his stated purpose. He is writing to Theophilus, and Christians like him, to provide assurance about the things they had been taught about Jesus (1:1-4). As a doctor, he was educated and understood the importance of providing “an orderly account”.
Jesus just told the parable of the Good Samaritan to the crowd in answer to the self-righteous lawyer. It served the purpose of both humbling the proud and expanding the scope of “neighbor” to include anyone who was in need. Jesus encouraged lavish and unhindered compassion, a sacrificial love that follows the example of Christ in his love for the Church.
Our neighbors’ needs are vast. We can be overwhelmed to think about how many ways we can show compassion. Once we begin to serve in a particular ministry, someone is telling us how important another ministry is. We could easily go from one ministry to another trying to satisfy the needs of everyone, and barely make a dent of progress.
On top of that, we can quickly burn ourselves out because we have taken no time to truly rest and recover from all the activity. What begins as an act of compassion may dissolve into a bitter and disillusioned spirit towards God. How do we ensure that our compassion for our neighbor does not crowd out our love for God?
Read Luke 10:38-42
DO YOU ENJOY LISTENING TO JESUS? (38-39)
John tells us that Martha and Mary are from the village of Bethany (Jn 11:1). Their brother Lazarus is the one whom Jesus would raise from the dead (Jn 11:38-44). The village was located about two miles outside Jerusalem along the far slope of the Mount of Olives. It was on the same road that Jesus spoke of in his parable, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho (Lk 10:30).
Many commentators have pointed out that this seems out of place chronologically. Jesus does not appear to have made it this close to Jerusalem at this point. This is not the first time we have seen that Luke is more concerned with logical order than chronological order. By placing this event here, Luke is making a point.
Upon hearing such a convicting call to love our neighbor, in the previous passage, it is important to balance that out with a call to prioritize listening to Jesus. Too many professing Christians, frustrated with the Church, think that by abandoning her they will become more engaged in loving their neighbor. The result is not a growing love for neighbor, but simply a declining church attendance.
As the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated love for neighbor, this passage illustrates love for God. It would be easy to fill our time with serving others. There is no end of people to care for. But if that compassion does not flow from a heart that is satisfied in Christ, it will be misguided and short-lived.
Martha graciously offered to host the traveling cohort in her house (38). Jesus was often shown hospitality from various social classes. He is found in the home of tax collectors, Pharisees, a leper, and several disciples. We see much of the same emphasis in Acts. Hospitality was a means of ministry. Much discipleship and fellowship took place over shared meals in their homes (Acts 2:46). Paul could have pointed to her as a positive example of fulfilling his exhortation (Rom. 12:13).
Martha’s compassionate hospitality was a good thing, but her heart was mixed with impurities. She grew bitter and resentful as her sister remained at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching (39). That act itself would have drawn the ire of many rabbis and scribes who thought it was improper for women to learn in that fashion. Jesus doesn’t only allow her to remain, but he commends her for choosing to do so.
We should not imagine Mary holding an adoring gaze into the eyes of Jesus. Saul of Tarsus “sat at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). That doesn’t mean he was looking upon his rabbi in a dreamlike trance. He didn’t have a Sharpie and a spot on his cloak for the rabbi to sign. He was simply, listening and learning from his teacher. Likewise, Mary is as attentive as any student would be.
The fact that Jesus encouraged women to enjoy this kind of dedicated learning was certainly counter-cultural.
Hendriksen This story and many others prove that on Christ’s value scale there is no difference between male and female. He loved all equally.
Hospitality is clearly a portrayed positively as an act of service. We should not think that Jesus is comparing the acts of these two sisters and suggesting that if you find satisfaction in one you can feel free to neglect the other. If your temperament is like Mary, you can delight in listening to your Lord without a sense of guilt that others are doing more! If your temperament is like Martha, you should serve without complaining. That’s not really the point here. Jesus is not disparaging hospitality, but highlighting the value of listening to him. That is fundamental for everyone.
Next we will see that it’s possible to give too much of your time…
ARE YOU DISTRACTED BY MUCH SERVING? (40)
There is nothing wrong with Martha’s act of showing hospitality. It is the internal struggle that she experienced in doing so. She is distracted by her service.
Hughes The implication is that Martha desperately wanted to hear Jesus herself, to be at his feet, but she was pulled away by her duties.
That distraction means that not only does she not learn from Jesus, but she actually grows to resent him for not rebuking Mary. Instead of growing in love for God and neighbor, she is filled with bitterness toward God and sister.
Calvin The hospitality of Martha was faulty in this respect, that she neglected the main business, and devoted herself entirely to household affairs.
The balance between work and rest has been establish from creation. The sabbath day was given as an opportunity for man to rest from his labors on the other six days. Various feasts also allowed for extended times of rest and celebration. There are many warnings in Proverbs against the sluggard and idle individual who avoids work. But there are also warnings about overworking (Psalm 127:2). Our final goal is to enjoy eternal rest (Rev. 14:13), but obviously we have not arrived at that point just yet.
Jesus is not disparaging work or hospitality, but it is the neglect of the more fundamental aspect of hearing him that Martha is replacing with service. Serving God and others in our own strength will lead to unexpressed bitterness toward God and others.
Bock Unfortunately, often when things get busy, the first thing to go is time with the Lord.
Have you learned to enjoy the rest that Christ offers?
HAVE YOU CHOSEN THE GOOD PORTION? (41-42)
First of all, notice that Jesus responds in such a way that he shows his concern for Martha. He doesn’t simply rebuke her and quiet her. He shows her that he understands what is on her mind. He calls her name twice, a Jewish form of expressing intimacy and affection. We’ve already seen how some will say “Lord, Lord” while hypocritically refusing to honor him with obedience (6:46). Their expression of affection for Christ is out of accord with their lifestyle of sin and rebellion against Christ. But coming from Christ, this expression of intimacy towards Martha is genuine and would have been reassuring for her.
There is real danger in being filled with anxious thoughts (Psalm 37:8; Ec. 2:22-23). The remedy is simply that we learn to trust in God (Is. 26:3). We bring our anxious thoughts to the Lord in prayer and allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Php 4:6-7; 1 Pe 5:7).
Martha should have stopped serving when she sensed her anxiety and joined the group of listeners. But she was struggling with a moment of self-righteous anger. The food could have waited. Sitting at the feet of Jesus should have taken precedence.
Anticipating enjoying the food from our church potluck can easily supplant our enjoyment of this superior, spiritual meal. By coming to learn from Jesus we rest in him and the satisfaction of our worship overflows in love for our neighbors. In this way, both our love for God and neighbor increases. What this means is that our love for our neighbors must be grounded in and empowered by our love for God. Therefore, while neither activity will be excluded from a mature Christian’s growth: Listen to Jesus and rest in him before showing hospitality to your neighbor. May we all experience a greater intimacy with Christ each time we sit at his feet!