Do you know the story of Mary and Martha in the Book of Luke? The two women, dear friends of Jesus, host Him and His disciples at their home. The focus of the story is how differently the two women choose to spend the time that Jesus is with them. Mary sits at His feet, listening to His teaching. Martha, however, is busy and distracted preparing the meal.
I used to feel a lot of sympathy for Martha – she got saddled with the work while her sister got to relax. And then, when she pointed that out, Jesus gently scolded her and defended Mary – that didn’t seem fair at all! But I’ve come to understand both sisters a little more.
Both women cared deeply for Jesus. They each valued the friendship they shared with Him. And they were excited to invite Him into their home, welcoming Him and His disciples warmly. The difference between them is in how they showed their affection for Jesus.
Martha wanted to express her care through action. Providing a meal for visitors was part of the culture, an expected courtesy. And as a woman of the time, Mary naturally gravitated toward that task and was good at it. She probably assumed Mary would join her in the kitchen, so there was no need to discuss it.
In contrast, Mary decided to show her love by giving attention. She bucked tradition by settling at the feet of Jesus. She respected His teaching, and wanted to soak in all He had to offer. Her focus was so fixed that it didn’t even occur to her that she needed to be anywhere else.
I think Jesus’ words to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things,” were meant to calm her spirit. And when He said that Mary chose the better part, He wasn’t saying Martha’s situation didn’t matter. He was reminding her that relationships are more important than tasks.
As I get ready to prepare another round of holiday dinners, I’m hoping to find just the right balance between ‘Mary’ and ‘Martha’ thinking. Then I might just take a break from stirring and chopping to treasure being with my guests, even before the meal!