Mary and Martha

by Joel Ramshaw (2023)

Luke 10:38-42 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 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.”

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”


Why did Christ side with Mary? Christianity is all about servanthood and sacrificing for others and yet Mary’s position seems to be the selfish one and she is rewarded nonetheless while the Martha with the servant heart is dishonored. Couldn’t they have at least taken turns? I have wondered these things. Christ is known for some mind-bending teachings however (at least to the culture of the time) and the ways of God often do not make sense at first to our human understanding.

First we see that Martha is trying to humiliate her younger sister in front of the group. She wanted Christ to rebuke Mary for idleness and put her in her place. Trying to get Christ to do this never ends well for the person asking. Luke records an incidence of a man trying to get Christ to scold his brother over an inheritance matter:

Luke 12:13-15, “Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed Me judge or executor between you?” And He said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.””


Instead of the man getting his wish fulfilled, Christ next preaches against greed and wishing for possessions, subtly rebuking the man. Trying to use Christ to scold and humiliate another person into doing your will never ends well.

Back to the Mary and Martha passage.

We can look at this story in light of the men vs women dynamic of the time. In ancient cultures, Jewish especially, the norm was to put all the hopes, efforts, and education on the male children while the women would take care of household duties. Martha did not question this role and as Jesus taught, she believed only the men were worthy to listen and her duty was to serve them. Mary on the other hand, realized that even as a woman she still had a right to hear Jesus teach. Perhaps she had heard of Jesus actions by meeting the woman at the well, or protecting the woman caught in adultery and learned of the higher value he placed on women versus the customs of the time.

Martha was friends with Jesus and would have had at least a day’s notice ahead of time to prepare food for guests. The Jews were already used to preparing a day’s food ahead for the Sabbath day, which is why Friday was called the “day of preparation.” If Martha had wanted to listen to Christ speak, she could have done this and asked Mary to help prepare the food the day before. It is likely that Mary was already mentioning her desire to hear Christ speak when she heard he was coming to their village but Martha did not put any value on her desire. Some people are really good at making extra work. They will create a situation that requires triple the workload only to get a 5% benefit. Martha strikes me as one of those individuals who “needs” to be busy and makes a lot of extra unnecessary work. Handing out food to a group of people is not a very hard job. Cleanup could be done later after Jesus had left. If Martha had really wanted to hear from Jesus, she could have planned better and created a situation where both her and Mary could hear the majority of Jesus teachings. It was not the sisters’ job to cater to every need of the crowd, they could throw away their own trash from the meal. The people could serve themselves in some ways. This is a village after all, not some grandiose hotel.

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