Summary: The Guest is more important than the hospitality.
REFOCUSING OUR COMMITMENT TO JESUS
Luke has arranged his material thematically (Luke 1:3), and it is interesting here to notice that this little but highly significant domestic incident immediately follows the parable of ‘the neighbourly kindness of the hated Samaritan’ (as I have called it). There the ‘lawyer’ - an expert in the Scriptures - asked what he must ‘do’ to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25), and twice over Jesus emphasised ‘doing’ (Luke 10:28; Luke 10:37). The story of Martha demonstrates the opposite problem: being so preoccupied with the ‘doing’ that the spiritual life is jeopardised.
Martha is like those Christians who, though saved by faith, make such a labour out of their everyday duties that they do not have time to stop and ‘hear what God the LORD will speak’ (Psalm 85:8). There is nothing wrong with industry and hard work, but we must not become overwhelmed with the cares of this world, choking the seed of the Word of God (Mark 4:19)! Our salvation does not rest in a frenzy of good works, hospitality and church activities, but in a relationship with our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Martha’s sister Mary is of a much quieter disposition. She is content to sit still at the feet of Jesus, feasting on His words. This is not to set the ‘contemplative’ life over against the practical, but rather to suggest that the Guest is more important than the hospitality!
If we thought the Samaritan story was subversive, this incident is too. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, a position which caused another woman to be scorned in an earlier incident (Luke 7:39). ‘What kind of woman sits with the men in a man’s world?’ such critics might ask.
“Sitting at His feet” (Luke 10:39) was the posture of a student to a teacher. It used to be considered inappropriate for women to receive an education. Yet here was Mary, declaring herself a disciple!
Martha’s problem on this occasion was not her hospitality – that, in itself, was highly commendable. Martha’s problem was that, despite all her frantic activity, she was not paying attention to her Guest. All the rattling of pots and pans culminated in an explosion that was aimed not just at Mary, but at Jesus Himself (Luke 10:40)!
A lesser man might have been insulted at Martha’s outburst: but Jesus, as ever, took it on the chin. Poor Martha, you are so burdened with your job at the church that, for you, there is just no time to pray (cf. Luke 10:41). No wonder that Jesus sets a sanction on worry (Luke 12:22; cf. Philippians 4:6)!
According to Jesus, Mary had found the “good” part, the one thing needful (Luke 10:42). She is not a lazy girl but, for her, her relationship with Jesus must have priority over even the practicalities of hospitality. No-one can take that away from her.