Be sure to read Martha and Mary Part 1
Part 1 ended with the following question.
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.
Please read the passage again and then share your answer about what was bothering Martha.
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.” Luke 10:38-42
We already saw in Part 1 that 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.” -John 12:1-8 NKJV
(The anointing at Bethany is a subject worthy of a separate study but we will 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?
Please share your comments below
Here is a blog post that contains some practical help for living daily as a devoted disciple of Jesus – Constant Prayer
You can live every day with The King!
Martha and Mary
- Luke 10:38-42
- John 11:1-44
- John 12:1-11