We know the story. The words of Jesus, “but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:42. Too often I am finding though that this story is being used by women to label themselves and each other in a way that isn’t helpful. I do not think God intended us to use this passage to pat ourselves on the back for being a “Mary” while trying not to make the “Martha’s” feel bad so we thank them for their “servants heart” and “hospitality”.
Both women loved the Lord, both women had great faith in Christ. Jesus loved their family and was comfortable in their home. Just as all of us, Martha wasn’t fully glorified yet, her sanctification was in process. Martha was rebuked for her complaining. She called Mary out in front of Jesus for not helping. In that moment she was serving herself, not others. She was putting her pride above Mary. Her service wasn’t what was being rebuked, her hospitality and the way she opened her home wasn’t the issue, it was her attitude in it. The lesson is that service to Christ must always be subordinate to worship of Christ. What if Mary though complained to Christ about Martha for making too much noise in the kitchen and doing too much while she sat with Jesus. We can label ourselves as Mary’s while self-righteously defeating the purpose of why Mary was chosen as a worshipful follower and example to us.
I don’t think because you can make Brie and jam tarts and organize gatherings that you should be labeled a Martha. Someone who is a student of the Word and loves to write and speak about God’s Word shouldn’t be labeled a Mary. I am a follower of Christ. That is the only label that highlights what He did for me on the cross, the redemption of my wretchedness into His gift righteousness. Out of that pours a desire to worship Him and know him intimately through the living Word of God and there is also the desire to love like He did and serve and give and use my gifts to encourage the body of Christ. Our gifts are different.. How I serve out of my home, how I serve at church, may look different than yours, as it should be. As followers of Christ that service and hospitality can’t come in a humble and God honoring way that ONLY points to Him unless we are first seated at His feet and filled with the joy that comes through the Holy Spirit’s illumination of scripture and truths that show us who God is. Believe me, I have experienced what it is like to serve for the wrong reasons. I have also experienced dry seasons where my worship of God wasn’t being put before all else. But God tells us there can be both. There should be both. “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” James 2:14-17. We shouldn’t compare, esteem, or condemn how a woman’s hospitality looks (chalkboard menus vs. paper napkins) or what her time with the Lord looks like (2 hour prayer sessions vs. 1 minute devotional). We SHOULD be encouraging each other to put God first in ALL we do. God knows our hearts. “Martha allowed her anxiety about what she must do for Christ overwhelm her gratitude over what He would do for her.” (John MacArthur) There are self labeled “Mary’s” that can have this same anxiety as well.
We all have moments of the good Martha serving out of love and humility and bad Martha serving with pride. We can be Mary truly soaking in and spending time with God in His Word or could be a prideful Mary who is esteeming herself. Labeling someone a Mary or a Martha gives connotations that just are not true and miss the point of this passage in the Bible. It’s not about being a great event planner vs. being great at studying the Bible. The point is to show us ALL, no matter what our bend or tendency is in our personality, that we should put knowing Him first, put being intimate with him and growing our faith and relationship with Him and His Word first. I would love to see those labels go away as we see ourselves as the Lord sees us. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18