“ Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
In the previous blog we talked about knowing our calling. I said that one way to know what God wants you to do is to think about what you are good at or what you enjoy doing. These things are likely the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you. This should help you determine how God wants you to serve Him.
Two women in the Bible who exemplify the unique differences in personality and calling are Martha and Mary. Their story is very popular and most of us readily understand that they chose to serve Christ in different ways. Martha was very concerned about being a good hostess. Mary wanted to listen at Jesus’ feet. Martha was likely the elder sister and was in charge of taking care of everyone’s needs. There was nothing wrong with what she was doing. In the sermons we hear, it is usually noted that her timing was bad. Usually the message we get from our pastors is that listening to Christ and worshiping Him are more important than our works. I agree with all of that, but I wanted to point out something deeper in the actions of these two women that is very much dependent on their individual callings.
We learn about Martha and Mary from the three occasions when they are with Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel we see the account of a dinner party at their home in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). In John’s Gospel we will meet them again at the tomb of their younger brother, Lazarus. Jesus would raise His friend from the dead (John 11). Then later, at the home of Simon the leper, where everyone was probably celebrating the resurrection of Lazarus, Martha is again serving. Mary took a pound of extremely costly perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair (John 12:1-11). Matthew and Mark also give an account of a woman, though not named, who anointed Jesus for His burial. The details in the accounts point to the fact that this woman was probably Mary (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).
As the eldest sibling in the family, Martha was the one who invited Jesus into their home and welcomed Him. She was a consummate hostess and her hospitality was impeccable. She seemed to be gifted with the ability to organize and to make all of her guests feel comfortable. Jesus certainly came right in and sat down and started making conversation with the other guests. Being able to make others feel so much at home is an admirable trait. We might feel sympathetic with her when she found herself doing all of the work. But, this is what she was gifted for and called to. Her only mistake, which was very gently pointed out to her by Jesus, was that she worried about her chores too much. Taking a little time out for the Lord when He was right there with her was more important.
The one who overheard this admonition and took it to heart was Mary. She had “chosen the good part” and devoted her whole attention to Jesus. Sitting at His feet she learned much from Him. She took in His every word and she comprehended it, even better than the disciples. Mary was gifted with the discernment to understand the significance of Jesus’ words. The Lord would speak of His coming death to the disciples several times in the coming months but they would not understand or believe it. Peter even exclaimed to Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Matt. 16:22).
We know from the story of when Mary poured the alabaster jar of costly perfume on Jesus’ head that she understood what Jesus was telling them. At this time in the Lord’s life, the chief priests and elders of the people were plotting to kill Him. Jesus had again, for at least the third time, told the disciples that He must be arrested and crucified. They still didn’t get it.
When Mary anoints Jesus’ head and feet with the oil, she is showing her gratitude to Him for her own salvation and for saving the life of her brother. She also seems to understand that Jesus’ time on earth is near an end. She had been attentive to the Lord’s teaching. God had blessed her with understanding. In this story as in all the stories about the incredible women in the New Testament, the women seem to be more intuitive and responsive to the Lord’s words.
The disciples complain about the “waste” of the costly perfume. They wanted to sell it and give it to the poor. We know that Judas had selfish motives for wanting to stop her. He was in charge of the moneybox and was a thief. But Jesus cut through all of the commotion and said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me” (John 12:7,8).
There is something interesting to note here. See how the disciples are more concerned with doing some kind of a work to please God. Compare this to Martha, who was also concerned with her works to please God. Now, works are good. We cannot say we have true faith without them. But Jesus had already made a point about what is more important – that is to worship Him.
There is also a similarity in the lesson that Jesus is teaching Martha and His disciples. Each was concerned with what was going on at that immediate time. Jesus wanted them to see that eternal issues are more important. Martha had to learn that being with Jesus while He was there was the better part. The disciples had to realize that what Mary did had more significance than what they understood. Mary’s blessing from God was that she was able to understand.
We see again in this incident how Mary “chose the better part”. Mary was so totally devoted to Christ, she was so in tune with His teaching, she was so intent on showing her love for Him that the only thing she could think of was worshiping Him. In her home she did this by listening at His feet. At Simon’s home, she did this by pouring the very costly perfume on His head. Jesus made a point to say that wherever the Gospel was preached, her action would be spoken of. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that love and devotion for Him must come first in our lives.
And so Martha and Mary both used their gifts to serve the Lord. We cannot say that one woman was better than the other. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Martha’s weakness, but both women loved Christ passionately. They both responded to Him using the talents and abilities they were given. I pray that we will as women learn to serve Christ with the gifts He has given us with as much devotion.