Martha, Martha: In Which the Author Fails to Get the Point


Another in my weekly series for Quivering Daughters
he joke’s on me.

I was thinking and praying about my topic for this week, and one story just wouldn’t get out of my head—Mary and Martha. We all know it, it’s really simple, but sometimes it does us a world of good to go back to the basics.

So I started my usual round of studying, reading, praying, trying to find the shape of the idea, maybe a profound insight, a unique twist, something unexpected, something new. The weekend went by, and I still had only a handful of scattered notes and observations. Nothing was coming together.

Writers don’t like that, or at least I don’t. I get a bit frazzled and start to fidget, especially when I know there are a lot of people waiting for me to meet a deadline. My other articles so far have all been enjoyable to write, but this one was just not working. Yet I couldn’t get away from the topic. I was starting to get worried and upset, wondering if I would have to work harder than usual to make a good post that would really serve you.

And then all of a sudden it hit me. I was getting distracted and worried by all the work and service I had to do…

…while trying to write an article on Mary and Martha.

Yeah, sometimes it takes me a while.

Now, as Chesterton said, I’m the fool of this story, thank you very much, and I’ll have no one coming to topple me from the jester’s throne. But really, my own thick-headedness makes the point (better than any illustration I could have thought up) of just how easy it is at any moment for any one of us to get a case of Martha’s Disease.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NASB).

Martha just wanted to serve—to serve Jesus, in fact. Serving is a good thing; serving Jesus is an even better thing. But that was the problem. It’s not the best thing. Strictly speaking, it’s not even a necessary thing. Only one thing is needed.

Mary found it. She found it at Jesus’ feet, just sitting, listening, and being. And even though someone close to her berated her for it with the best of intentions, nothing could take it away. Not then, not ever.

It would be a mistake to say “We need to be more like Mary.” The whole point of what Mary was like is letting go of sentences that begin “We need to.”

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

So, nothing fancy today. You don’t need me to tell you what you already know; you can just stop and remember it again. Let’s go back to the story we all know and spend some time listening to what Jesus has to say. Read it slowly and reflect and bask in it. Spend some time at Jesus’ feet. That’s all.

As Jesus and His disciples were going along, Jesus came to a village where there was a woman named Martha. She welcomed Him as a guest.

She had a sister named Mary, who came and sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He said.

But Martha was distracted, pulled this way and that with all her serving.

She came up to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving alone? So tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered. “You’re worrying and bothering about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away.”

—Luke 10:38–42, paraphrased EP.

(Recommended hymn with that: Jesus, I Am Resting.)


AuthorEric Pazdziora

Composer, Author, Pianist

2 replies to Martha, Martha: In Which the Author Fails to Get the Point

  1. So coincidental that I wrote a Facebook note over a year ago, called “In Which Mary and Martha Pack for a Guilt Trip.” Here it is:

    Late night thoughts while listening to Beethoven’s 6th.

    Luke 10:38-42:

    Now it came to pass, as they went, that he (Jesus) entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me here to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

    Sometime later…

    John 11:1:

    Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

    (As recorded in the intervening verses, Lazarus dies.)

    John 11:19-20:

    And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.

    (Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, there’s a plot to put Jesus to death, etc.)

    John 12:1-2:

    Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

    Bear with me through this, because I’m going to suggest putting a sacred cow out to pasture (and maybe mix a few more metaphors while I’m at it). We often hear preaching about how (as Christ said), Mary chose the better thing in Luke 10, which was worshiping Christ, while Martha was bustling about the house. And sometimes, I fear, we over-zealously berate other Christians because they’re “doing” and not “worshiping”.

    I was talking to a fellow pianist a while ago about this; she wondered if she was spending too much time in the practice room and not enough time with Christ. Graduate school auditions were coming up, and she was working her tail off to get ready for them. I pointed out that she was in a temporary situation – in a month or two, this time in her life would be past. Also, she was developing the gift God gave her, not wasting her time on meaningless fripperies, and that in itself glorifies God.

    I haven’t done a whole lot of research into it, but I’m somewhat familiar with Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation. As a reaction to the Medieval thinking that one could only be spiritual by becoming a priest, monk, or nun, he taught (and this is the physical, temporal side of the concept of the Priesthood of the Believer) that one saved woman changing a diaper was worth more than all the works of all the priests, monks, and nuns in the world.

    Last time I checked, my Bible said that, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. Those who would argue that a “secular” job is less worthy than their idea of a sacred one are clueless as to the value God puts on work. If what you’re doing is ethical and legal, and doesn’t break God’s laws (dealing meth to kindergartners might be in bad form, for instance), then DO IT! I don’t think that God gets a whole lot of pleasure when his children guilt-trip other children into serving him; Christ’s “cure” for Martha was not guilt, but a revelation of himself and his mighty, supernatural works – read on…

    When Jesus comes to visit Mary and Martha after Lazarus’s death, Martha, not the worshiping Mary, is the one who left the house and went out to meet Jesus. Mary just sat there in the house. And Martha was the one who had Christ speak the amazing words to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” She then believes on Christ, which is as close to a conversion as you can get before the cross and resurrection (see Hebrews 9:16-17). Mary didn’t get to hear this conversation.

    In John 12, Martha serves at the supper made for Jesus after Lazarus was raised, but there is no rebuke, even after Mary in worship anoints Jesus with ointment of spikenard, the act Jesus said she’d be remembered for throughout history. The difference in wording between the two passages shows why there was no rebuke, no red-faced preacher shouting, “You’d better get right with GAWD and set the dinner plates down and start worshiping!” Jesus had already made his point.

    The difference between the two passages is that, in Luke, Martha was cumbered, burdened, distorted by her serving, to the point of complaining to Christ that Mary wasn’t working hard enough. In John, there is service without burdens; she has believed on Christ, the resurrection and the life; she is serving without bitterness, and without worrying about what other followers of Jesus are doing.

    Certainly, if Jesus is calling you to him, drop what you’re doing and go to him. If your serving is distorting your spirituality, burdening you, embittering you, go worship Christ! But, even if Christ lived at your house for a hundred years, dishes would still need washed. And I think Christ himself would walk into the kitchen now and then and say, “Can I dry?”

    • Excellent thoughts, grinninglion! I appreciate your big-picture view.

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