“She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” Luke10:39 (NAS)
There are many lessons we can learn from the relationship that Martha and Mary had with Jesus. From the scriptures we are privy to three very significant encounters these two sisters have with Jesus and the ensuing exchanges of dialogue give us great insight into their unique relationships with Him.
We are first introduced to these two women in the gospel of Luke when Martha invites Jesus into their home as He and His disciples happen to passing through their town of Bethany. We learn right away that these two are very different in their motivation and approach in relating to Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha’s love language is serving and hospitality while Mary’s is sitting and listening. Both approaches have their place. Jesus’ teaching about the virtues of both servanthood and prayer closet disciplines affirm that. But much has been made of Martha’s frustration with Mary’s lack of help and Jesus response to her. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (vs. 40-41)
There are two very important lessons we can glean from this encounter with Jesus. First and most obvious, there are times when serving Jesus is less important than sitting and listening to Jesus. In fact service that is most pleasing to Jesus must flow out of first sitting and listening to what He would have us do. Many of us like Martha have a tendency to put the proverbial serving cart before the attentive horse. And we must always be mindful that the need does not necessarily constitute the call.
The second lesson here is the point Bible scholars make about Jesus’ liberating women from the traditional roles that restricted them from full participation in spiritual teaching and nurture. Many conjecture that Mary was crashing a men’s only gathering as she sat there at Jesus’ feet and that part of Martha’s frustration was Mary’s non conformity to the requisite role of women being in the kitchen. It is noteworthy that, as was Jesus’ habit, once more He sweeps aside accepted convention in deference to true spirituality.
The next time we find Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary, also at their invitation, is under entirely different circumstances. (John 11:1-44)