The tale of these two, polar opposite sisters, is found in the gospel of Luke chapter 10:38 – 42. These two sisters could not have been further apart in their models of engagement with The Lord.
Martha was the one who invited Jesus into her home. She gladly welcomed Him into her house – a conscious choice of her own accord which was neither forced nor manipulated by external forces.
But after having invited Him into her home (and by extension her life), she failed to engage with Him choosing rather to preoccupy herself with the task of “serving”. She was, as Luke astutely observed, “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40). The greatness of the person she had invited into her own home – of her own initiative – slipped from her as she went about “serving”, allowing “cultural correctness” to steal the day, to rule her life and thinking over engagement with Jesus. She seemed to have failed to grasp and appreciate the prominence and significance of the person she had invited into her home.
She was naturally inclined toward the culturally appropriate action of “serving” as a natural byproduct of the culture she lived in and therefore did not think twice about prioritising it over her engagement with the Lord she had welcomed into her house. She was focused and maintained a tunnel vision on the culturally appropriate which seemed to have a vice-like grip on her life and decisions she made.
Could Martha be a likeness and reflection of many of us who’s lives are gripped and governed by what is socially and culturally appropriate and expedient and not by the person and truth of Christ?
Her sister Mary, on the other hand, chose to sit at the feet of Jesus and fully engage with Him – at the cost of the “culturally appropriate”. A choice, no doubt, made out of appreciation for the person of Jesus. She chose Jesus as her portion over anything else that would distract her from Him. Any day. His presence was not something she’d swap with anything else. Luke 10:39
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
The task of “serving/entertaining” the Lord (and His disciples) eventually overwhelmed and tired Martha – in stark contrast to her sister who was rested whilst fully engaged with Christ. She had to find a way to get her sister to help. So she solicits the Lord’s help 100 percent certain that He would side with her – and by extension, with the culturally appropriate. Martha proceeded to question her sister’s choice of singular and focused engagement with the Lord at a time when, in her opinion, Mary should have been assisting her in “serving”.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Her excuse for not engaging with the Lord and attempting to disengage her sister from doing so was the culturally appropriate “service” that she had chosen. She chose to prioritise and attend to the “culturally appropriate” service over her engagement with the Lord. At the same time, Martha inadvertently sought to curb her sister’s engagement with the Lord by prioritising the culturally appropriate over that engagement. The tacit ground for justification of her choice to give her time and attention to “serving” over Mary’s choice to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him, was “cultural appropriateness”. The Lord countered her reasoning by saying that though there are many, seemingly legit and culturally (or otherwise) appropriate things that clamour for our time and attention, it was Mary’s choice of focused engagement with Him that was good, profitable and commendable.
Luke 10:41 – 42
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha must have been shocked (and maybe disturbed?) to hear the Lord leap to Mary’s defence. Mary was commended for identifying and choosing that which was needed (which was to learn at the feet of Jesus, to consume the words of Christ) over the many, seemingly legit, and culturally (or otherwise) appropriate things that clamoured for her time and attention. Martha was anxious and troubled about those things to the point of not only devoting herself to them but getting agitated that others did not. Mary, the Lord claimed, had made the right choice that would not be taken away from her.
It was, after all, a matter of choice. Mary chose well. Mary chose right.
Hers was the right choice that received the Lord’s commendation for being good and one that would stay with her for good. She chose her portion right. She chose her portion good. Christ was her choice and her portion. She chose to spend time with Him – at His feet – over the many other things that she could have easily gone for. For this reason the Lord commended and defended her from her sister’s misguided accusations.
Mary’s choice was the one Christ not only defended and commended but commented on too. He asserted that its benefits would stay with her for ever. In other words, there was eternal and enduring value and significance in the choice she made.
We too need to identify what is needed and make the right choices for ourselves.
Like Martha, far too many of us are troubled and anxious about many, (culturally and socially appropriate) things in life; yet are hardly concerned about the one thing that is needed most – focused engagement with God through His word. So much time and attention is lost in attending to the “culturally appropriate” and “socially correct” etiquettes and practices of society that there is hardly any left for engaging with the Lord, for that which really matters and has permanent value. We are more concerned about the culturally and socially appropriate and expedient than seriously engaging with God through His word.
There comes a time when we too have to decide our portion, choose what we want to give ourselves to – engagement with the Lord through His word or the perfectly “legit” culturally appropriate and socially desirable activities of our time. The cultural norm and expectation preoccupied and made Martha anxious. Luke 10:41 – But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,
It was okay for her to attend to the cultural norms of her day but when pitched against what Mary had gone for – it was a huge blunder.
There needs to be a discipline and a prioritisation to our engagement with God (through His word) over everything else. Mary did not dip in and out, switch the Lord on and off but sat at His feet to at the exclusion of everything else.
Jesus never scolded Martha for her choice but left her to it and only addressed it when she attempted to justify it. The Lord never pressed or demanded that Martha does the same – even when she complained to Him about her sister. It was a choice Martha had to make for herself. All that the Lord did when Martha complained was defend, justify and commend Mary for her choice. Martha’s never even came into the conversation – at least not directly.
I wish Luke had recorded two other facts for us – the content of the Lord’s teaching to Mary and Martha’s response to His correction of her misguided accusation.
But he (or, to be precise, the Holy Spirit) chose not to even though the material would have been available. The point was clearly made and the lesson sufficiently communicated through what is provided for us – engaging with the Lord is a matter of choice which He will never press or coerce us into.