Martha and Mary: The Gospel Accounts: A Chronological Harmony

Martha and Mary

Now that the seventy have prepared his way, Jesus begins traveling through Judea teaching. He stops in the town of Bethany at the home of Martha (John 11:1).

Her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teachings (Acts 22:3; Luke 8:35), but Martha was able to listen well because she was busy her preparations for her guests. Eventually she complains, not to her sister, but to the Lord himself. She asked him if he did care that her sister sat there while she did all the work. In essence she is saying that it was Jesus’ fault that she was working alone because Jesus was distracting her sister from the work. She wanted Jesus to tell her sister to help her.

But Jesus kindly tells her that she is worried and bothered by too many things – things that were really not that important. By repeating Martha’s name, Jesus is taking the edge off of his rebuke (Luke 22:31; Acts 9:4). There really is only one important thing and that was what Mary chose.

It must of been a great honor to have the Lord Jesus Christ in her home. Martha focused on the preparation of food and serving. But in the long run, it wasn’t that important. Nor did it give as much honor to Jesus as you might at first suppose. At the end of the day, when the meal was done, people would not remember the hard work Martha put in to serve Jesus.

Mary, though, gave Jesus true honor. She made listening to his teachings her top priority. It was an honor to be with Jesus, but the marvel at the moment was to hear the Son of God himself teach the gospel. Relatively few people would have that opportunity, and Mary took advantage of every moment she could get. In essence, Jesus was the one doing the feeding as the meal was being prepared (Proverbs 10:21).

In truth, Martha honored Jesus as a guest in her home, but Mary honored him as a teacher. Both are commendable, but Mary’s position was best. The most important thing should be secured first, then other things can be added to it (Matthew 6:33; I Timothy 4:8). The thing of most important is seeking God (Psalm 27:4; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Mark 8:36).

As a side note, notice that this puts an arrow through the teaching that everything is predestined. Jesus stated that Mary, not God, chose the good part, just as others did before her (Hebrews 11:25; Joshua 24:15; Psalm 119:30).

Thus we learn that even good things, such as being hospitable, can become a hindrance when we allow these things to distract us from the truly important things. Mary put the highest priority on the one thing that would give her eternal life, while Martha allowed herself to be distracted from it. It is the motivation behind Paul’s suggestion that Christian not marry because of the present persecutions (I Corinthians 7:32, 35). It wasn’t wrong that Martha prepared food for the Lord. What was wrong was that she fussed and fretted over it to the point that she missed out on being able to listen to Jesus’ teachings.