Summary: Message on the Mary and Martha encounter with Jesus. Jesus identifies the one essential thing.

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Most everyone wants to be prepared for what lies ahead. If someone were to ask you what you need for the coming year, how would you answer?

More money? More time? New friends? A vacation? A new job? A job? More education?

More quality time with the family? A new house? Better health? Change of hair color? A new car? You get the idea.

All of us have some kind of idea or perception as to what might make the coming year more productive, happier, just plain better. The problem is, today’s culture doesn’t have a clue how to discern what is important and what isn’t. Since God created each of us, it would follow that he might have some clue as to what real life involves. We would expect to find some help from the Bible as to man’s basic need. And most certainly the Bible addresses the things that God’s reckons most important in life.

Passage Luke 10:38-42

I.Observe the interaction

Three significant characters grab our attention. Jesus, Martha, Mary


Jesus and his disciples stopped to visit the home of a woman named Martha who had a sister named Mary.

While there, Jesus took the time to teach those gathered in Martha’s home.

Martha assumed the responsibility for any necessary preparations to welcome the guests and provide for their needs while in her home.

Mary chose to sit and listen along with the others to the words of Jesus.


The passage tells us that Mary heard (imperfect) the words of Jesus having situated herself right in front of His feet.


Martha “received” Jesus into her house. Luke used a word meaning “to welcome as a guest into your home.” The Jews took the responsibility of hospitality seriously. You can possibly imagine the mental state of Martha trying to entertain a house full of people. Luke used a word meaning “to be pulled or dragged away, become or be distracted, quite busy, overburdened.” In contrast to a focus on the words of Jesus, Martha became distracted from hearing the words of Jesus by what she perceived as a vital and necessary service (diakonia – deacon) to her guests. Focusing on the urgent she missed the important.

Luke used the same verb tense for both ladies. Mary focused on listening. Martha focused on serving.

Which is more important? At this point, many interpreter of this incident opt for the importance of both. Some people focus on serving and other on listening. We logically deduce that there are Marthas and Marys in this world. But is that the intended teaching of this passage? We must be careful to conform our thinking to the clear teaching of Scripture and not impose our culture or own logic on the Scripture. Thinking her choice of priorities to be the proper one, Martha naturally expected that Mary embrace the same priority and tried to manipulate Jesus to instruct Mary to help her with the preparations.

‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."

Notice the obvious frustration. “Doesn’t it concern you?” Her choice of words leads me to believe that she was trying to manipulate Jesus. Doesn’t it even concern you that Mary is in here sitting and I am out there working by myself? If you really care about this injustice, tell Mary to take hold of herself to finish this important task together with me.


Jesus responds to Martha’s statement probably in an unexpected way. We would have expected Jesus to reassure Martha that he really cared and redirect Mary to go help her. After all, the woman’s place is in the kitchen anyway, right? (Just kidding!) With distinctive tenderness yet deliberate training, Jesus first addressed Martha’s struggle then presented a basic spiritual principle.

Martha’s struggle

Martha, Martha! Dear Martha! You are continually stressing and worrying (present active) about many things. You are continually troubled and thrown into disorder (present passive) about many things. The word translated bothered is found on only here in the New Testament but a close relative was used to indicate “noise, clamor, uproar, and turmoil or excitement.” Jesus points out how Martha continually stressed and worried over things (active choice) and continually allowed things to put her into disorder, turmoil and distraction (action to her). She demonstrated both internal and external stress that caused her to lose her focus on the important.

Not only did she stress out, but expected others to embrace her priority and obsess over the urgent rather than opt for the important.

II.Focus on the truth so clearly taught by Jesus

Following this gentle exposure of Martha’s fussiness, Jesus calls her to refocus on a most basic principle and commends Mary for choosing to focus on the good. Jesus unmistakably declared that out of all the things in this life that one may chose to purse, only one is truly necessary. It was Mary not Martha who chose the good thing. Just what did Mary chose?

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