For many Americans, today is the occasion for watching the
Super Bowl. It is also a time for lavish meals including in
some cases much preparation. So it seems like an apt day to
focus on the conflict in this text. On the surface, it seems
like a conflict between Martha and Mary. In truth, it is a
clash between Martha and her Lord whom she addresses as
The Lord is Martha’s God and Savior. She likely does not
know Him well at this point in His ministry since the text
identifies her generally – “a woman named Martha”. Of
course, we know she would become a beloved friend of Jesus
along with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus.
But she has clearly learned of His teaching. Likely, she had
been exposed to the teaching of the seventy. She has
responded to the gospel. She is hosting Christ at a time in
His ministry when it had become dangerous to do so. She is
apparently lavishly preparing the meal, as well as the
necessities for Jesus along with His some of His disciples.
She also has her mind on those things needed to house her
cherished guests overnight.
But her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus
listening to her Lord teach the Word. She is at the feet of
her God listening to the most powerful, transforming teacher
of the Scriptures in the world. Mary ignores the conventions
of the day. The rabbis of Israel would never allow a woman
to sit at the feet of another teacher to hear the
Scriptures. The text describes her position as one of close
physical nearness. Mary is absorbed with the intake of God’s
There is no reason to conclude from the text that our Lord
does not appreciate Christian hospitality. On the contrary!
It is a command. It is a requirement for Elders. Scripture
tells women to be keepers of the home. There is also no
reason to assume that Martha does not want to listen to her
Lord teach. She is just presently unable to do so. She is
preoccupied with other things. She is burdened down and
worried. The original indicates that the household tasks
were dragging Martha away from the precious teaching of her
What then began as a good thing, the hospitality of God and
His beloved servants, has become a provision for the flesh.
Martha is not only worried. The passage indicates she is
burdened down, bothered, and likely angry with Mary.
To make a bad situation worse, Martha brazenly interrupts
the Lord’s own teaching. She then insults the God of
infinite compassion with a statement that He apparently does
not care about her own burdens combined with Mary’s
corresponding neglect – “Lord do you not care that my sister
has left me to do all the serving alone?” From insult,
Martha launches into words of arrogance that are shocking –
Martha instructs God to dismiss Mary to help with the chores
if He understands her concerns.
Our Lord sympathetically, pointedly, lovingly, and
Martha. He repeats her name for emphasis in the personal
admonition, but no doubt with a loving , tender tone in His
voice. Jesus then captures the moment for Martha and for us!
Martha, the priority right now is to listen to My teaching
of the Word of God. This is the good thing that Mary has
chosen over hospitality. In the original, the Greek is
emphatic. Rather than “the
good”, the text should read, “the best”.
Lest we look down upon Martha, let us examine our own
hearts. How often have we become anxious about something,
entered into the flesh, and ended up encumbered with worry,
exasperated, and even angry at others such that we say
things we later wish we could take back? Ironically, what
Martha needed to do at that precise moment was humbly
acknowledge her sin and her consequent need for the Word of
God to purify and pacify her agitated heart.
We need to glean from this passage. Yes, hospitality is
commanded in Scripture. It instructs us to seek
opportunities aggressively to be hospitable. Many other
priorities are also commanded of us. We are to provide for
our families. We are to minister to the lost. The list of
Biblical responsibilities in our lives is manifold. But
every priority we take on in and of itself is vanity unless
we are empowered by the Lord, serving Him heartily, and with
Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that
proceeds out from the mouth of God. To know God is priority.
To know God, we must take in His thoughts while in the
Spirit. We must know His mind. The thought of the Lord must
dominant our souls such that we are abiding continually in
His Word. It must abide in us. We must crave the milk of the
Word like babes. The Word of Christ dwells within us richly.
Without a renewing intake of Scripture, we easily will find
ourselves distracted from what is best. The results will be
inevitable. The deeds of the flesh will produce many other
sins in our lives. So let us put the first thing first. We
need to identify any distractions in our lives blocking us
from sitting at the feet of our Lord. This is how the Spirit
enables us to seek the face of our majestic God. Having
identified that which is robbing us of the best thing, let
us resolve right now to block that which drags us away from
communion with our God. Mary wisely chose that which was
best; lit us do likewise!