Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
This is a really packed several verses, so we’re going to dig into the deeper meanings of the original Greek words that don’t necessarily come across in our English translations.
Upon initial reading of this situation, we can see the picture here is that Jesus comes into the village and Martha invites him to her home, in which it appears she lives there with her sister, Mary. Jesus begins to teach and Mary sits at His feet to listen while Martha gets busy with serving – or what we might think of as hospitality service. Upset that her sister isn’t helping, she goes to Jesus and wants Him to tell Mary to help. But Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen the good portion and that it won’t be taken away from her. However, if we only ever take away nuggets from that surface level understanding, we miss a lot from this interaction that we can glean from.
First, I know this story tends to draw a perspective that Mary is good and Martha is bad, but that’s just not the case here. Mary indeed chose the good portion, but that doesn’t make Martha bad. There are definitely some areas where Martha didn’t keep the right perspective and it led her to make errors, so what can we learn from both women from this interaction?
Martha Had a Heart to Serve
Martha truly wanted to serve Jesus and His disciples. That word for serving means to serve or minister to, and It’s literally where we derive our English word for deacon, with the Greek word being diakonia. That’s not a bad thing. The part where she went wrong was that she was distracted with much serving.
The word for distracted here means to be drawn away and over-occupied about something, to the point of being distressed. It’s not that what she was doing was bad, it was that she got drawn away from the good portion and became over-occupied with serving. It’s important to both sit and serve. You can’t effectively serve if you don’t spend time sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Martha Was Led By Emotion
I don’t want to assert that this is always how Martha interacted, but in this particular situation, she was led by her emotions and so much so that she went up to Jesus, accused Him of not caring, and told Him what to do regarding Mary.
When it says, she went up to him, this action in the Greek means to stand over or place oneself above by coming upon suddenly. This is wrong in and of itself, but to do this to Jesus has greater consequences. We should go to Jesus with our problems, 100% we should go to Him with our problems, but HOW we come to Him makes all the difference. Through her actions, we see that her heart wasn’t to bring her burdens to lay down at His feet and surrender them to Him, she instead wanted to share her upset and then tell Jesus how to handle it.
And honestly, I can understand how Martha could feel what she felt. In a closer look at the Greek, when she asks Jesus, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? She was sharing that she felt like her sister had forsaken and abandoned her and was questioning if Jesus had a concern or regard for that. She felt abandoned and alone in her service, and while she was indeed alone in it since she decided to be distracted with much serving while her sister chose the good portion, Martha was not abandoned in the least. Not by her sister and not by her Lord.
Martha was Important to Jesus
Jesus’ response to Martha has a mix of encouragement and correction. Clearly, Martha was emotionally distraught and Jesus recognized that, since part of His response was to acknowledge that she was anxious and troubled with many things. But before He even said that, He said her name twice.
In our English language, saying her name twice may seem merely like wanting to make sure He had her full attention; but in the Greek there is another purpose. Think of the times when Jesus would say, “Truly, truly I say to you…” When someone wanted to emphasize something as important, they would say it twice, and here Jesus says Martha’s name twice. Jesus emphasized that although she feels abandoned and alone, she is indeed very important to Him. Jesus prefaced His response to the situation by meeting her where she was at, even while in a state of being overwhelmed with her emotions.
In addition to her importance to Jesus, it was important to Jesus that Martha realized what He was telling her. She didn’t NEED to be anxious about many things, and the one good portion was readily available to her as well as her sister who had already chosen it.
A Correct Perspective
Jesus told Martha that she was concerned with many things, but pointed out that really only one thing was necessary. While I’m sure the things she was doing were nice and pleasing to her guests in some way, they weren’t necessary in that moment. In that moment, her service was serving to distract her from choosing the good portion.
In this situation, Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him teach, and that’s all that was necessary in that moment. Martha’s serving wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t necessary in that moment and was causing her anxiety and a troubled mind.
Now this good portion that Mary had chosen, the word for good is the same word that Jesus used when he told the Parable of the Talents, where it says, His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21)
We are told to be anxious for nothing but to address things with prayer and supplication – and not to worry about what we’ll eat or drink or wear but to seek first the kingdom of God. The thing was, Martha had the One whom she should pray to and the King of the kingdom right in front of her, but her anxiety was keeping her from seeing things rightly. She needed to be still before the Lord, and that was a lesson she needed to learn.
Are you overwhelmed and anxious? My dear, dear sibling in Christ, choose the good portion that won’t be taken from you and sit at the feet of your Savior.