passage is one of the gems of the New Testament. We shall see in it a hidden
as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha
welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the
Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her
preparations; 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." But the Lord answered and said
to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and
bothered about so many things; but only one thing is
necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away
(Luk 10:38-42 NASB)
now and then you come upon a passage in which the study of the original Greek
lights up the lesson. This is such a passage.
in the Bible, were not simply labels used to tell one person from another.
They meant something, if only your parents’ contempt for yet another child.
name Martha comes from a Persian word which made it into Greek. It means
“mistress.” It’s very appropriate. You’ll note that Martha had a sister,
Mary (probably younger) and a brother. Their parents evidently left
Martha in charge; normally the house would go to Lazarus. She is rather
obviously a doer.
is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam. Miriam, in Hebrew, means
“rebelliously.” We can picture Mary as the bratty little sister who
always shoved the work off on Martha, then went out to flirt with the
boys. She’s figured out how to stick Martha with the cooking, at least.
verbs are used to describe Martha in this passage, and in them is the secret of
the lesson – at least at first.
is distracted – other translations use such words as encumbered,
worried, upset or pulled away. That last is a very insightful translation.
The Greek word used is composed of two other Greek words. One is the root of
our word perimeter; the other means “to pull.” Taken together, they mean
“pulled away from the center.”
instructive; for Christ is the center, and Martha is being pulled away from
him by the chores of hospitality.
is also worried. This word is used in several other places in the New
Testament, with both positive and negative emphasis:
the word used when Christ tells us to take no thought for the morrow.
also the word used when he tells us not to worry about what to say when
we’re up in front of the judge for being a Christian.
uses it when he mentions that those who are single can spend more time on
Christ because they don’t have to worry about their spouses.
not always a negative; Paul also uses it to command us to take care of
each other in the church.
also uses it to command us to be anxious about nothing, pray about
get the idea. It’s not just having cares or problems; it’s the mental load
that this carries. It you’re going to carry such a load, do so for God’s
then tells Mary that she is bothered (the NIV has “upset.”) This word
carries with it a meaning of a noisy commotion. You can almost picture Martha
in the kitchen, things boiling over, fire going out, dishes dropped – the
bustle of kitchen work. Other translations of this word include “commotion”,
simple lesson is this: Martha is distracted by things of lesser importance.
Mary is not. Score: Mary 1, Martha 0. Go forth and listen.
things are not always so simple as they seem.
understand the deeper significance of this passage, we need first to examine
what was then taught about hospitality.
God of Abraham
the Jew of this time, the name Abraham would be greatly honored as the
patriarch of the nation. He was known as the friend of God; he was studied as
a great example for the pious. Abraham was noted for his hospitality; indeed,
entertaining angels within his tents. Hospitality, then, would be noted as a
nature of hospitality
the Bible and other records, we can see the nature of hospitality as practiced
at this time:
was considered an obligation of a host. God sent a guest; only a fool
would treat God’s guest rudely.
was considered the right of a traveler. Notice that in his instructions
to the seventy that Christ did not tell them to beg for hospitality; he
assumed that as travelers they would get it automatically.
can be seen from Abraham’s example, hospitality was offered with great
Abraham’s feast is offered to the angels as a little water and a piece of
bread – the oriental courtesy showing in the self deprecation.
done properly, a bond of friendship develops between the traveler and his
host. It is hard to eat together (though this was not always done) and
Christ himself acclaims hospitality as a great virtue. You recall the seventy
being sent out to live off the hospitality of others; you should also recall
that he said that anyone who gave such a cup of cold water in Christ’s name
would in no way lose his reward.
early church reflected this attitude, too.
was commanded – you never know who might show up.
it be a burden? Yes – but a burden we are to bear without complaint.
was so important that the list of qualifications Paul gives for an elder
in the church includes the practice of hospitality.
may always argue that the spiritual is more important than the physical, and
therefore Martha should have known better. Good things in the spiritual realm
are of profit for eternity; good things in the physical realm tend to last
only a lifetime. More than that, the practice of good things in the spiritual
yields greater gains – but cost us more in mental effort. (No pain, no gain).
you think not, consider this: is it not the case in your own life, and the
lives of those around you, that they will persist in doing good deeds
physically long after they have ceased to do good deeds spiritually? In fact,
we prefer to do good physically; we quit the spiritual more quickly.
reason is this: we’re sinners. In the spiritual exercises (e.g., prayer)
we meet the pure righteousness of God. We’d just as soon not bring the
reason is that we feel unworthy. I feel good when I do something tangible
for others; I feel unworthy talking to God.
sometimes we’re just too worried and distracted to pray.
know, of course, that the “spiritual only” life is a fraud; faith without
works is dead. If we let our prayer be the excuse by which we avoid the
practice of the faith, we are indeed merely hearers of the word, not doers.
short, dear reader, I submit to you that by all that she knew, Martha was
right. Therefore we may conclude that what she knew (at the time) was
inadequate. So what was it that she learned later?
Supremacy of Christ
me put it this way: Martha assumed, implicitly, that Jesus would agree with
her. She approaches him in the tone of voice that say he has missed
something. It is sufficient for her to bring the problem to the teacher’s
notice, and he will resolve it. She’s not asking; she’s telling.
an illustration would make it clearer. Suppose we were obliged to hold our
class meetings in various people’s homes. As we rotated through the various
homes, the lady of the house would naturally feel herself obliged to provide
hospitality; she would also feel it only fair that others pitch in. Some would
excuse themselves from the lesson, having other things to do, especially in
terms of ministry (someone’s got to watch the little kids.) Certainly your
teacher would not feel offended at any of this; and this would seem perfectly
you see it is not a case of “listening to teaching is better than working in
the kitchen.” It has nothing to do with the teaching – and everything to do
with the person of the teacher. This teacher is not Lord; that Teacher is.
the issue is really the lordship of Jesus Christ. He tells the Jews of the
time that he is Lord of the Sabbath – and remember that keeping the Sabbath is
one of the Ten Commandments. Here is a man whose mere presence overrides the
most sacred obligations of the Jewish faith. He is Lord of the Sabbath;
evidently he is Lord of Hospitality too.
near the end of Christ’s ministry on earth, Mary is the one who anoints him for
burial. She is the spiritual one; her service is an act of devotion, the
highest form of sacrifice. The broken jar of alabaster symbolizes the broken
and contrite heart, the ever acceptable sacrifice to God.
Lazarus dies, it is Mary who stays in the house, and must be called to the
Lord’s side by Martha. Mary is the one whom the neighbors come to comfort –
the one everyone knows will take it hard. Hers is the emotional side of faith.
Lazarus dies, John’s Gospel records for us that Jesus loved “Martha, her sister
People are listed in the order of importance at this time; you can see where
Martha is in Jesus’ affections. Why? Because of what Martha now knows:
*said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son
of God, even He who comes into the
(Joh 11:27 NASB)
is the first to make the good confession of faith – the foundation of
Christianity. Our foundation is not “what” but “who” – Jesus the Christ, the
Son of the Living God.
the tomb of Lazarus, she is still the worker; she is the one who calls Mary to
come to the site. She is the one whom all look to when Jesus tells them to
roll away the stone. She is the doer – but a doer in faith.
reacted to Jesus in her own way; emotional, totally devoted, wanting nothing
more than to sit at the Master’s feet. (Incidentally, the phrasing used here
means not only at his feet, but also by his side. She’s in the front row).
Martha picks up the work; her devotion is shown in service – but it is
grounded in a clear understanding of who Jesus is. In their own ways, each
shows us what it is to love Christ with all heart, soul, mind and strength.
these are not given to us merely for our amusement, nor even our comprehension
– Mary and Martha are given to us as examples. The important question is, what
is our reaction to Jesus Christ? Who do you say that He is?