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This is a critical passage for women – especially mothers – who are consumed with so many necessary everyday activities that it can be difficult to maintain their communion with God. Interesting that Jesus begins with elevating the role of women in society by violating cultural norms of the day to enter into Martha’s home to fellowship with her and her sister Mary. Jesus had a high view of women and included them in critical areas of service. But in this context He is going to lovingly correct the distracted spirit of Martha who is consumed with the busyness of service and neglecting the highest priority of all which is worship and communion with the Lord Himself. Context: These stories balance each other. The early part of the Samaritan story lifts up love of God, neighbor and self, and Jesus concludes by saying, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37)—calling for an active, “doing” discipleship. The Mary-Martha story is the reverse. Jesus criticizes Martha for her worry and distraction and affirms Mary for listening—thus calling for a “being” discipleship.

Perhaps the key to understanding this dichotomy is to emphasize, not the active or passive role of the one who loves, but the appropriateness of the response to the situation. The wounded man needed the Samaritan to love him actively—needed him to bind his wounds and arrange for his care. The situation is quite different when Jesus visits Martha and Mary. While he has human needs for food and hospitality, his is a Godly visitation, and it is more appropriate to focus on the spiritual food that he offers rather than the food that Martha is preparing. . .

Both listening and acting are appropriate behaviors for Jesus’ disciples. The discipleship quandary is trying to determine which is needed in the immediate situation.

Warren Wiersbe: Worship is at the heart of all that we are and all that we do in the Christian life. It is important that we be busy ambassadors, taking the message of the Gospel to lost souls. It is also essential to be merciful Samaritans, seeking to help exploited and hurting people who need God’s mercy. But before we can represent Christ as we should, or imitate Him in our caring ministry, we must spend time with Him and learn from Him. We must “take time to be holy.


“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village;

and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.”

Only recorded by Luke (cf. different account of the same two sisters in John 11 in connection with the death and raising up of Lazarus)

Morris: Elsewhere we find that Martha and Mary lived at Bethany (Jn. 11:1), about two miles from Jerusalem. Here the house is said to be Martha’s and the impression we get is that she was the elder of the sisters and the hostess.

Steven Cole: In that culture, many rabbis thought that teaching women was a waste of time. But Jesus took the time to evangelize and teach women, thus showing the value that God puts on every person.


Chiastic structure abba

A. (:39) Conduct of Mary – Devoted to the Person of the Lord and His Word

“And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet.”

1. Listening to the Word of God

2. Sitting at the Teacher’s Feet

J. Ligon Duncan: The Posture of a Disciple — That is what a disciple does. A disciple is devoted to the authority of Jesus and sits under His teaching. A disciple acknowledges the authority of Jesus and drinks in His teaching. A disciple is not telling Jesus how he or she thinks it ought to be. A disciple has his mouth closed and he’s drinking in every word that comes from the Savior.

Piper: It seems to me that Martha isn’t the strange person in this story. Mary is. What’s remarkable is that Mary wasn’t distracted. She ignored the insistent to-do lists so she could listen to Jesus.

And this irritated Martha. She was working like crazy while Mary just sat there. Martha considered this either laziness or negligence. Exasperated, she finally appealed to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40).

B. (:40) Conduct of Martha – Distracted by Service Activities

1. Consumed with Busyness – Distracted

“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations;”

J. Ligon Duncan: We live in the busiest culture in the history of the world. We are constantly surrounded by, and bombarded by, busyness. And you know what? Most of our busyness is superficial busyness. I think our forefathers who were far less busy got a lot more done than we get done because we spend so much time doing superficial stuff. But we’re busy all the time. There’s stuff going on all the time. There are beepers going off and phones going off and iPads going off and iPods going off and cell phones going off and there’s stuff going on all the time. And that busyness is an enemy to discipleship because it keeps our eyes focused on a multitude of less important things and we forget the most important thing.

2. Critical Spirit – Disgruntled

“and she came up to Him, and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’”

– Impatient with the Lord for not intervening and correcting the situation

– Critical of the priority that her sister Mary has chosen


A. (:41) Evaluation of Martha’s Conduct – Distracted by Lower Priority Concerns

“But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha,

you are worried and bothered about so many things;’”

B. (:42) Evaluation of Mary’s Conduct – Devoted to the Highest Priority = Communion with God

“but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Anyabwile: In all your busyness don’t forget that only one thing is necessary. That one thing is not the next task on your to-do list. That one thing is not serving others. The one necessary thing is enjoying the Lord himself.