Mary or Martha? Which Sister Are You? –

(Photo: Unsplash)

These two sisters have always intrigued me. If I answer the question, am I a Mary or a Martha—I would say I’m both. Sometimes, I’m a Martha serving others, especially during family events or the holidays. Then during the cold wintry days of January, all I want to do is sit at Jesus’ feet and be a Mary. Since the Bible teaches balance in doctrinal truths, what’s the balance between these two sister’s actions? Why did Jesus rebuke the sister who was serving him delicious fish and bread on a platter with figs? And why did he refuse to tell her sister to help?

In Luke 10:38-42, we get a glimpse into this family that loved Jesus and supported his ministry. Jesus loved Lazarus, the same Lazarus he raised from the dead, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. They hosted many of the gatherings for Jesus and his followers in their home. In this story, Luke writes that Jesus is brought into a family squabble when one sister is upset with the other.

My imagination has Martha clanging pottery in the kitchen trying to get Mary’s attention to help her. Maybe sighing out loud, over and over? How about giving Mary looks that could kill behind the Lord’s back? Finally, in the middle of traipsing back and forth with hot steaming bowls of lentil soup, Martha tells Jesus with her hand on her hip, to tell her sister who’s sitting at his feet, to help her.

Been there? I have. When I was a young mother and wife, I would host a party or holiday dinner, get in over my head, and then expect my husband to help me in my anxiety to get it done before our guests arrived. He would sit without a care in the world, watching a football game oblivious to the cloth napkins that needed to be ironed and the red ring in the guest bathroom toilet. I would ask the Lord in my martyr voice to convict the heartless, lazy, uncaring husband of mine to read my mind, and carry the chairs out of the kitchen, so I could scrub the wood floors on my hands and knees.

After a few episodes like this, I finally learned. This was my own standard and my own doing. I created my own work for myself. I’m not saying husbands or children shouldn’t help; I’m just saying they don’t have to rescue you from yourself. That’s the Martha Jesus rebuked, not her hospitality. An important point is that Jesus doesn’t reprimand Martha until she tells him to scold her sister. She puts him in the middle of it.

Jesus lovingly tells Martha (Martha, Martha), she is worried and troubled over things that will pass away. Serving others is not the issue. Serving others is a good thing, it’s one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s the fussing and fuming to get it all perfect. To exhaust one’s self in matters that will pass away. Jesus loved them both. But Mary chose the good part. She chose the deep longing and yearning to cultivate a loving relationship with him.

We don’t have to choose; you don’t have to be a Mary or a Martha—or in my case, a Martha in December and a Mary in January—we can be both at the same time. We can serve others with love and joy, from the peace that passes all understanding in our heart, that comes from choosing the best part.

Jesus Mary and Martha serving

Editor's Picks