by The Doctor
“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister Mary sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked”  (Luke 10:38-39).

Martha and Mary -along with their brother Lazarus– were friends of Jesus who lived in a town called Bethany (John 11:1). Since the large crowds of people who came to see Jesus sometimes didn’t even leave Him enough time to eat (see Mark 3:20 and 6:21), Martha’s invitation probably came as a welcome opportunity for Jesus to enjoy a meal and share some time with His friends.

We’re told that Martha’s sister Mary also attended this get-together along with the additional detail that she took a seat on the floor while listening to Jesus speak. Now the fact that Mary sat on the floor while listening to Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t any other places for her to sit. In fact, Mary’s choice of seating was probably much more meaningful than you may think. To understand why this is so, you just need to know a little about the way that first-century teachers like Jesus interacted with those who came to listen.

You see, the teachers of Jesus’ day didn’t use desks and classrooms like we often see today. Back in those days, students would often sit in a semi-circle around the teacher while they listened to the lesson that was being taught. Because of this, The Doctor believes that the fact that Mary chose to take this very same position while listening to Jesus was more than just a coincidence.

The fact that Mary sat on the floor near Jesus to listen as He spoke indicates that she took on the position of a student or a “disciple” of His. In fact, the word translated “listening” in the Scripture quoted above also means to consider what has been said, to learn and/or to perceive the sense of what is said. (1)

So it seems that Mary was doing much more than simply just “hanging around” to hear what Jesus had to say- she was actively listening to the things that Jesus said and looking for ways to apply those things in her life.

Now this might ordinarily sound like a good idea but not everyone was happy with what was going on…

But Martha was the jittery type and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me'” (Luke 10:40).

It’s not hard to imagine that Martha was putting a lot of extra effort into a meal that she was preparing for a guest like Jesus. Of course, it’s also possible that Martha felt that her sister was just trying to get out of doing some extra work by not helping out. In any event, Martha decided to deal with the situation directly by saying to Jesus in effect, “Doesn’t it bother you that I’m doing all the work and my sister is just sitting there and not lifting a finger to help me?”

Here was Jesus’ response….

“But the Lord said to her, ‘Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it– and I won’t take it away from her!'” (Luke 10:41-42).

While it seems clear that Martha wanted to honor Jesus through all the work that she was doing, it also appears that she had taken that desire to an unhealthy extreme. You see, there’s nothing wrong with working hard on behalf of Jesus- that’s a good thing. The problem comes when your work for Jesus causes you to become distracted from Jesus and His teachings.

In a similar way, people can make the same mistake today by trying to serve Jesus without first taking the time to really listen and learn from Him. This is why Jesus told Martha, “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it…” That “one thing” Mary discovered was the importance of spending priority time with Jesus and learning from Him.

If Martha had also done this, then her efforts would have fallen into their proper place and she wouldn’t have gotten so stressed out over all the work that she was doing. So in the end, Martha’s real problem wasn’t with Mary at all- Martha’s real problem was with Martha and the fact that she got her priorities backwards.

But Martha’s example also gives us another important thing to think about. Notice that Martha was very concerned about the fact that she was working and somebody else wasn’t. Of course, this same kind of attitude can also be very common in our world today too. Like Martha, it can be easy for people to compare their amount of work to the work of others and then criticize those who “aren’t doing enough” in their opinion. Unfortunately, this sort of attitude can often lead to the same kind of hard feelings that Martha obviously had toward Mary as seen above.

Now this is not to say that it’s OK for some people to slack off while other people do all the work. However, it’s usually much better for people to concentrate on their own responsibilities rather than spending time and paying attention to what others are (or aren’t) doing. You see, a Christian who is busy looking at what others are doing can’t focus very well on the business that God has given them to do. In fact, Jesus provides us with a warning on this very subject in Luke 9:32…

“Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

It’s important to remember that Jesus did not say that what Martha had done was wrong, only that Mary had chosen something better. It’s best for someone to listen and learn from Jesus first and then focus on carrying out those responsibilities that He has given them regardless of what others may or may not be doing.

(1) Thayer’s Greek Lexicon © 1993