Please join me in a Bible study about Mary and Martha.
We meet these women in Luke 10:38-42
Start by reading the passage in your Bible and perhaps in more than one version.
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Now let’s focus on verse 40
The NKJV says Martha was distracted. Distracted is a word in common use today but it is not very specific.
Reading the verse in other versions may be helpful in getting a clearer picture.
The best way to dig a little further is to find the original Greek word used in this verse.
Step one is to go to the KJV where we find the word used is cumbered.
Here are verses 40-42 in the KJV
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
You can do some quick and easy research here – Blue Letter Bible
The first thing you find is the number in Strong’s which leads to the Greek word.
Click on the number and you should find yourself HERE
Greek word – perispaō
Cumber: lit., “to draw around” (peri), “draw away, distract,” is used in the Passive Voice in the sense of being over-occupied about a thing, to be “cumbered,”
Interesting that this word is only used once. We don’t have any other verses with the same word to compare with Luke 10:40. However, there is one instance of a similar word used in Luke 13:7. See this in the Blue Letter Bible Follow the Strong’s number 2673 to the Greek word
Isn’t it great that you can so easily access the original words, their meanings, and additional information? Take advantage often of the free resources at Blue Letter Bible
Read what John Wesley wrote about this portion of scripture
verse 40 – Martha was encumbered – The Greek word properly signifies to be drawn different ways at the same time, and admirably expresses the situation of a mind, surrounded (as Martha’s then was) with so many objects of care, that it hardly knows which to attend to first.
verse 41 – Martha, Martha – There is a peculiar spirit and tenderness in the repetition of the word: thou art careful, inwardly, and hurried, outwardly.
from John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes
And now read what Matthew Henry wrote about these two verses.
- She was cumbered about it; periespato-she was just distracted with it. Note, Whatever cares the providence of God casts upon us we must not be cumbered with them, nor be disquieted and perplexed by them. Care is good and duty; but cumber is sin and folly.
- She was then cumbered about much serving when she should have been with her sister, sitting at Christ’s feet to hear his word. Note, Worldly business is then a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting good to our souls.
It seems clear from only a quick study of verse 40 that Martha was not simply concerned about cooking a meal for her guests that day. She was overwhelmed by a number of cares and worries perhaps every day. Seeing her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus instead of joining her in the meal preparation was the tipping point for Martha. She became so upset that she went to Jesus about it. Her question to Jesus clearly revealed her anxious state of mind.
Without realizing it, she had done the best thing she could have possibly done in her situation. Anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed? Call on Jesus!
Jesus answered Martha by first explaining her true state of mind. He described her as worried and troubled by many things. This revealed the truth of a deeper problem that Martha may not have even realized herself. What Jesus said to Martha removes all possibility that Martha’s irritation that day was simply a little stress caused by the desire to serve a nice meal.
We do not know what all the cares, troubles, and worries were that surrounded Martha. Daily responsibilities and financial concerns connected to maintaining her home may have contributed to the load she carried. These alone could have been heavy on her mind.
We may not be able to determine the many things that distracted Martha on that particular day but we can definitely know where her focus should have been.
What exactly bothered Martha about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus?
I hope you take some time to ponder this and other questions that come to mind in this study. Sometimes we are quick to listen to someone explain when we are actually well equipped to read and learn on our own. If you are a believer you are not alone because Jesus is present with you. The same Jesus that spoke to Martha is with you today. Pray that you will see and understand what Jesus has for you to learn as you dig into the story of Martha and Mary.
Martha’s upset was no slight irritation but the overflow of a deeper problem. The way she spoke to Jesus suggests the possibility that she was not only disturbed by the many things and what her sister was doing but she may have even been upset with Jesus.
Martha was in an agitated state when she observed her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Sitting at the master’s feet was the place of a student
The fact that Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus made it absolutely clear that she was a devoted disciple.
I am well aware that it is not popular in today’s culture to say outright that Martha was wrong. But she was. I’m not sure why so many who write about Martha seem to feel compelled to defend her.
Jesus corrected Martha and heartily approved of Mary’s choice. There was nothing vague about the response that Jesus gave to Martha.
Martha must have been taken by surprise when Jesus answered her. What do you think she might have felt and thought about what Jesus said?
Let’s dive a little deeper into the upset about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.
N. T. Wright on Mary and Martha from Women’s service in the Church: The Biblical Basis
Most of us grew up with the line that Martha was the active type and Mary the passive or contemplative type, and that Jesus is simply affirming the importance of both and even the priority of devotion to him. That devotion is undoubtedly part of the importance of the story, but far more obvious to any first-century reader, and to many readers in Turkey, the Middle East and many other parts of the world to this day would be the fact that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet within the male part of the house rather than being kept in the back rooms with the other women. This, I am pretty sure, is what really bothered Martha; no doubt she was cross at being left to do all the work, but the real problem behind that was that Mary had cut clean across one of the most basic social conventions. It is as though, in today’s world, you were to invite me to stay in your house and, when it came to bedtime, I were to put up a camp bed in your bedroom. We have our own clear but unstated rules about whose space is which; so did they. And Mary has just flouted them. And Jesus declares that she is right to do so. She is ‘sitting at his feet’; a phrase which doesn’t mean what it would mean today, the adoring student gazing up in admiration and love at the wonderful teacher. As is clear from the use of the phrase elsewhere in the NT (for instance, Paul with Gamaliel), to sit at the teacher’s feet is a way of saying you are being a student, picking up the teacher’s wisdom and learning; and in that very practical world you wouldn’t do this just for the sake of informing your own mind and heart, but in order to be a teacher, a rabbi, yourself. Like much in the gospels, this story is left cryptic as far as we at least are concerned, but I doubt if any first-century reader would have missed the point. – N. T. Wright
Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3)
Jesus said “Mary has chosen”
Chosen is not difficult for us to understand. It means to choose, select, choose for oneself.
So there was a choice, an option and it was available to Martha as well as Mary.
What did Mary choose?
We have the same choice today. It does not matter what your gifts, talents, interests, personality traits are— it is a choice
This relationship is offered and available to followers of Jesus but not forced upon anyone.
Whole-hearted devotion and a life of discipleship or something less? The choice is yours.
The next time the Bible mentions the sisters is found in John 11:1-11
Don’t skip reading that important portion of scripture! I am not covering it at all in this study. But please don’t miss it!
Let’s close this study by reading another time Jesus comes to visit in John 12:1-8
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper, and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
(The anointing at Bethany is a subject worthy of a separate study but we will only touch on it briefly here as it is relevant to the current study of Martha and Mary)
Notice that Martha is again serving but perhaps not overwhelmed by the activity like she was before. I like to think that this time she chose to serve something simple prepared in advance allowing undistracted time with Jesus.
Jesus was again approving of Mary and defending her actions.
Mary is again quietly keeping her focus on Jesus. As a devoted disciple, she had listened, learned and believed what Jesus taught. She had followed His teaching so closely that her belief spilled over into this worshipful act of anointing Jesus.
What do you notice about Mary in this portion of scripture?
What is Jesus saying to you through these verses in Luke 10:38-42 and John 12:1-8?
Martha and Mary
- Luke 10:38-42
- John 11:1-44
- John 12:1-11
I hope you have found encouragement for your faith in this study of Mary and Martha.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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