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Mary or Martha?

Mary or Martha?

Words of Faith 8-8-18

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018


Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Luke 10:38-42

   As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [39] She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. [40] 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!"    [41] "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, [42] but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

         Can you imagine if about eighty-five people showed up unexpectedly for dinner? And one of them was Jesus? Talk about a high profile guest. Does the term total panic gain new meaning?

         In the little village of Bethany, there was no Supermarket Deli, Boston Market or Dominoes Pizza! Scholars often point out the wonderful friendship between Jesus and this family of three siblings, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, but surely this situation would have stressed the very best of friendships.

         Mary responded with excitement that the master was there. He was teaching and she wanted to hear it all. Actually, what Mary did broke the cultural norms. A woman was not really to be with the men when teaching was going on. Her place was with the women. But everywhere Jesus went things were different and certain cultural norms were being re-written.

         Martha responded to the arrival of this throng with action and a bit of understandable panic. She was the sort of woman who was capable of making things happen. She was creating the necessary whirlwind of hospitable preparations when she looked over to the next room and what did she see? Her sister Mary! Sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on every word, soaking in His presence.

         Never mind that this crossed a cultural barrier. This was simply not the time to be sitting around! There was too much to be done! And it was even worse that the Master seemed to actually condone this behavior.   Anger was clearly part of the response. And the anger was even expressed toward the Lord. "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help.

         The response of Jesus was one of the timeless phrases that both inspires and puzzles us. There was no rebuke for Mary but a gentle rebuke for Martha. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

       Jesus made a powerful point: Sometimes we miss the better things because of the urgent things that crowd our lives.

       Now we must be careful with this text. What we often hear in teaching from this text is something rigid about devotion versus busyness that quickly divides a room of listeners into a "Mary camp" and a "Martha camp." It is easy to take sides identifying with Mary or Martha and the fight begins. The Mary camp is made up of the spiritually-minded people who always have a text or a Scripture or a wise question, the folks who love to study and pray. The Martha Camp is made up of the practical people who count chairs, set up more tables, organize the covered dish, and do not go home until every dish is washed, dried and re-inventoried.

         Now the men should not feel left out. Being a Mary or a Martha doesn't have a thing to do with gender. It mostly has to do with the gifts of the Spirit and the temperaments that God gives to us. If I had to categorize, my dad is a Martha and my mother was a Mary. My mother loved sermons, teaching, special programs and lectures.   My dad was the guy who always ran the dishwasher at church. To this day, I am not sure anyone else ever really knew how to run the dishwasher. Mom prepared a weekly Sunday School lesson while dad drove the church van to pick up the elderly. Mom was often invited onto a special committee to evaluate the sermon process. Dad was usually a trustee. It is a matter of gifting.

         We can see those differences in people and probably in ourselves. The sad thing is that this Scripture is often used to beat up a bit on the Marthas.   I have heard preachers go on and on about how we cannot afford to be unspiritual like Martha who was overly concerned with kitchen duties.   We must focus on the Word like Mary did.  

         Some preachers will go into great detail about how important the matters of the spirit are and how the practical matters of detail and preparation are not eternal they are passing away. By the end, that preacher has pretty well alienated the Martha camp, which goes away muttering something like, "You Marys just wait till the next time you want dinner. Then you'll see how important we Marthas are... I've never seen a Mary complain when I served them their dinner before the Bible study starts."

         Frankly, I call that Martha Abuse. What we often miss is that it takes both Marthas and Marys to have a healthy church and we all need some balance. Churches could not survive without both Marys and Marthas. We certainly cannot afford to abuse the Marthas.

         If you had a donut before worship this week, thank a Martha. If you picked up a bulletin on Sunday, thank a Martha. If you enjoyed a midweek meal at church, thank a Martha. If you got a newsletter neatly folded and labeled, thank a Martha. If you worshipped in an orderly, clean, well prepared place, thank a Martha.

           The place of Mary is vital, too.   If you were in a Bible Study class this week, thank a Mary. If you enjoy reading a modern translation of the Bible carefully researched by over 100 top scholars who love ancient languages because they love the Word of God, thank a Mary. If your child is in a wonderful Sunday School class, thank the Martha who sorted the curriculum and the Mary who prepared the lesson.

       So. Are you a Mary or a Martha? Are you more concerned with the teaching or the luncheon? The details of the Greek translation or the condition of the parking lot? The truth is not only that we need both Marys and Marthas and Jesus needed both Marys and Marthas. And the truth is that Mary and Martha needed each other. Martha needed to learn something from Mary. And Mary probably needed to learn something from Martha.

         The real key is balance. If all you do is study the Bible and you never lift a finger to serve within the Body of Christ, you are out of balance. If all you do is serve and you never go to the feet of Jesus to be nourished, you will run dry spiritually.

         This is text is really about the resentment that can develop in the Body. That is for tomorrow.


       Lord, help me to find my place of balance. Help me to find the times I need at Your feet. Help me to find the delight of learning from Your Word. Help me to find the places that I need to serve. Show me the way that I need to be of help to others. In Jesus' name.