At the Home of Martha and Mary

“What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different than a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father. So you are no longer a slave, but a son, God has made you also an heir.”

Paul, Galatians 4:1-7

One of the supreme tasks of the faith community is to announce to us early and clearly the kind of life into which we can grow, to help us set our sights on what it means to be a human being complete.

Not one of us at this moment is complete. In another hour, another day, we will have changed. We are in the process of becoming either less or more. There are a million chemical and electrical interchanges going on in each of us at this moment. There are intricate moral decisions and spiritual transactions taking place. What are we becoming? Less or more?

John, writing to an early community of Christians, said, ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ (I John 3:2)

Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses

The Encounter

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But 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!”

41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Some Observations

Jesus and his disciples continue on the road to Jerusalem. As they have been doing on the journey thus far, they are relying on hosting (lodging and food) from friends or others that receive them in each town. Here they enter into the house of Martha; her sister, Mary, is also present.

I can put myself right in Martha’s shoes. She is scrambling to make preparations for Jesus, perhaps making an extravagant dinner, putting the best sheets on the bed in the spare room, cutting flowers, lighting candles, making sure everything is perfect. I will prove to Jesus how much I love him and, in doing so, validate my own competence and worth! Meanwhile, Mary is simply sitting at Jesus’ feet, presumably talking to him, listening to him and experiencing the joy of his presence.

Martha gets angry – Mary is shirking her work and leaving it all to Martha – “Tell her to help me!” she says impatiently to Jesus. Jesus tenderly addresses Martha (“Martha, Martha . . .”) and captures the universal human struggle in following him: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”

This is convicting in terms of how easily distracted, distressed and full of anxiety I have become based on a day’s events. I can’t even remember half the stuff that was so upsetting a month or year ago; yet these things kept me from experiencing God’s peace and sucked me right into the small world of day-to-day troubles, apart from Jesus and alone, trusting in myself and my abilities to react and respond. This mode is crushing and debilitating.

The “one thing” that Jesus implies we should choose is seeking his presence above all as we follow him and putting our trust in him not only for our salvation (of course, that is primary!), but for everything else as well. Struggles and trials (while some very real and very painful) pass, as do victories and successes. The one thing that “will not be taken from [us]” is our relationship with Jesus; it is very real now and will remain so for eternity. Do we believe this?

This encounter provides a great visual – Mary sitting peacefully and joyfully at Jesus’ feet, completely absorbed in his presence; Martha grinding away, scrambling to get all the things that seem so important done . . . frustrated, angry, full of anxiety. It is not a reach to say that we face the choice to be Mary or Martha each day. We either acknowledge and allow ourselves to enter into Jesus’ presence as we spend time looking at and meditating on his words, in prayer and in fellowship with other followers, or we can choose to be consumed by the troubles and struggles around us. We choose to live either as heirs to a loving Father (with “full rights of sons” as Paul says in Galatians), confident in God’s abundant provision and faithful care, or as slaves constantly seeking to prove our worthiness, but never sure if we have made the cut.

Loving Lord, give us the desire and strength to seek your presence and reveal yourself to us in tangible ways this day. Increase our weak faith, as you offer to those who ask.


“Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praise you when you prosper – he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life.

A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”

Psalm 49:16-20

A Prayer

“Have mercy on me, O God according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.”

Psalm 51:1-3