Mary and Martha were close friends with and followers of Jesus. Together with their brother Lazarus, they had Jesus over for dinner on more than one occasion. Yet, on one particular visit the sisters chose two very different roles, and the way that Jesus responded to their choices is a very enlightening lesson for us today.
In Luke 10:38-42 we find that while, “Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,” you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Prioritization is the activity that arranges items or activities in order of importance relative to each other. In the context of this biblical story, we find that Martha’s priorities were acutely different than Mary’s priorities.
When Jesus made it to the sisters home in Bethany, Martha initially demonstrated hospitality by welcoming Jesus into the home she shared with her sister Mary. But then she immediately began scurrying around doing different tasks she thought needed to be completed to accommodate their distinguished Guest. Meanwhile, Mary chose to rest at the feet of their distinguished Guest in lieu of helping out with any of the chores.
The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. Certainly Jesus commends this kind of service many times, notably in the parable of the Good Samaritan that immediately precedes the story of Mary and Martha. The problem with Martha is not her hospitality, but rather her ability to prioritize. Her lack of prioritization caused her to become worried, bothered, and distracted. The word translated “distracted” in verse 40, comes from the Greek word “perispaó” and it has the connotation of being pulled, dragged in different directions, too busy, distressed, or to be over-occupied.
Martha’s lack of prioritization left no room for the most important aspect of hospitality — gracious attention to their distinguished Guest. In fact, she breaks all the rules of hospitality by trying to embarrass her sister in front of their Guest, and by asking their Guest to intervene in a family dispute. She even goes so far as to accuse their Guest (Jesus)of not caring about her (Lord, do you not care…?).
Let’s be honest, most of us have asked God this question! When we don’t properly prioritize our lives it’s easy to be pulled, dragged in different directions, too busy, distressed, encumbered, and over-occupied. This is what drives a wedge in our relationship with God.
I am not sure why Luke’s story is left suspended. We really do not know what happened next — whether Mary and Martha were reconciled, whether they were all able to enjoy the meal that Martha had prepared, whether Martha was finally able to sit and give her full attention to Jesus. Having said that, I believe we can safely opine they all enjoyed themselves because, the God we serve never ends on a negative.
In closing, David’s spiritual position with God in Psalm 27:4 mirrored Mary’s physical position with Jesus! The paraphrase says, “I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in His house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.”
God doesn’t want us distracted, He wants us focused. He doesn’t want to be sequestered to a single part of our life, He wants to be the substance of every part; the logic behind every choice we make — He is our first priority!