10/23/13

Mary and Martha: A Short Comparison

 

by Greg Sousa
 October 22, 2013

In a society filled with time commitments, fast-approaching deadlines, and schedules that don’t seem to fit within a twenty-four hour time frame, where does one find the time needed to accomplish all of their tasks at hand and still maintain a hospitable social life? How does one stop from being distracted with details and simply recognize the reasons for his/her actions? These are some of the questions and conflicts that Mary and her older sister Martha faced when Jesus and His twelve apostles were guests at their house in Bethany.

We first meet Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. Although they are mentioned in each of the four Gospels, it is the story of Luke 10: 38-42 that has been studied for centuries by biblical scholars.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had become cherished personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had a profound love for their family, and it's clear from Luke's account that Jesus made Himself at home in their house.  Although the passage is short, it is very poignant. Luke writes:

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 38-42 NKJV).

Jesus had apparently been invited into the home by Martha, signifying that she was the one in charge and the master of ceremonies of this house. She tried to do everything that she could to make sure that all of the details of the visit were perfect – and as the oldest sibling – she may have feared the shame of her home not measuring up to the desired expectations. While much of Martha’s behavior is commendable, she fussed over the hostessing duties too much. As a result, she was not able to enjoy any quality time with her guest, Jesus, and found it impossible to accept her sister’s lack of cooperation in all of the preparations.

 In contrast to her sister, Mary felt it was important to give more attention to Jesus rather than focus on the details of the visit. Mary felt that it was more important to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words rather than focus on the details of serving her guest’s needs. Mary’s actions irritated Martha so much that she bought it to the attention of her guest, Jesus. Jesus didn’t become angry with Martha. He was the perfect house guest. He understood her anguish, but loved her enough to tell her what she needed to hear. He tactfully stated that Mary’s choice was the most appropriate. Jesus' reply must have utterly startled Martha. It probably never occurred to her that she might be the one in the wrong, but the little scene earned her the gentlest of admonitions from Jesus.

Ironically, in a later incident recorded in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, we find Mary, once again, sitting at the feet of Jesus while she anoints Him with expensive oils and perfumes and wipes His feet with her hair. This time Judas Iscariot is the one to quickly rebuke Mary for her actions stating, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor” (John 12: 5 NIV). Once again Jesus comes to Mary’s defense and rebukes Judas saying, “Leaver her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial” (John 12: 7 NIV). Mary seemed to be able to discern Jesus’ true meaning even better than any of His twelve disciples.

 

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