Martha vs. Mary: 6 Clues You’re Acting More like Martha than Mary
We all know the New Testament sisters Mary and Martha. And we all know that
Mary comes off better in the gospels. She’s the one commended by Jesus for
choosing the one thing that was necessary. She’s the one He said would be
remembered down through the ages for her act of pouring perfume on His feet. And
she’s the one to whom the New Testament seems to attribute the salvation of many
Jews—they came to visit Mary as she mourned her brother’s death, saw Lazarus
resurrected and believed. Didn’t any of those Jews come to visit Martha? Maybe
not. Maybe she was too much of a pain in the you know what.
The saddest thing about Martha is that her attitude caused her to miss out on so much:
she missed the opportunity to sit at a Bible study led by Jesus; she misunderstood the
comfort He offered her at her brother’s grave; left up to her own devices, she would
even have missed the miracle of her brother’s resurrection; and finally she missed the
opportunity to lavish love and attention on Jesus’ just days before He died.
Here are 6 clues that you’re acting more like a modern day Martha than like Mary and
may be missing out on opportunities God offers you:
1. You are worried or distracted by many things. Frazzled. Running around like
a chicken with your head cut off. You know what I am talking about. There’s a
lot to do and it ALL seems to be a high priority. Jesus told Martha that she was
worried and distracted by many things but that Mary had focused on the one
necessary thing—sitting at Jesus’ feet. So when you begin to feel frazzled, stop
and take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you’ve done the one thing that was really
necessary today. Did you sit at Jesus’ feet? Right now, whether you are in the
kitchen, grocery store or office, put yourself at His feet and ask for His wisdom,
peace and calm. Ask Him to bring your mind into focus, allay your worries,
prioritize your day, and eliminate those things that don’t really need to be done.
2. You’re disgruntled because you feel like you are doing all the work. Notice
Martha’s complaint to Jesus: my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Do
you ever feel like Martha? Sure you do. I hear you: “My husband never does a
thing around the house!” “The kids don’t appreciate all I do!” “My co-workers
are a bunch of idiots. I have to do everything myself!” Well, maybe your
complaints are true, but they’re still complaints. And they are the opposite of the
servant’s attitude Christ demonstrated and His command to love your neighbor as
yourself. When you hear yourself starting to complain like this it’s a flashing red
light warning you that you probably aren’t spending enough time sitting at Jesus
feet. Calm down and tell Him that you feel like you’ve been left holding the bag,
ask for His help, and make sure you are setting aside time to spend alone with
Him each day.
3. You feel like Jesus doesn’t care about your situation. Not only did Martha feel
abandoned by her sister, she felt abandoned by Jesus. She said “Lord, don’t you
care?” Her complaint sounds silly when we read it 2000 years later but how often
do we feel the same way? Sometimes we outwardly accuse Him of not noticing
the frustrating or painful situation we’re in. More often we just act like He
doesn’t notice or care by failing to cast our worries, frustrations and fears on Him.
He told us not to worry, but instead to pray. When we don’t do that—when we
continue to fuss, fret and fume on our own—what are we saying? Acknowledge
right now that He does care, even about the little domestic details, and talk to Him
about them. You’ll get the same loving response and direction that Martha got.
4. You’re having theological discussions with Jesus instead of listening to Him.
When her brother died, Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again.
Martha immediately responded that she knew her brother would rise again in the
resurrection at the last day. She got her doctrine right but she got what Jesus was
saying to her that day wrong. Now, don’t mistake what I am saying here. We all
need to learn basic doctrine, but for some of us the acquisition of Bible
knowledge becomes more of a goal than hearing what God is saying to us through
the Bible. If you find yourself listening to sermon after sermon and reading book
after Christian book without asking yourself what it all means in your life right
here and right now, you might be caught in Martha’s trap. When you read the
Bible or listen to some teaching, start asking yourself what does this mean for me?
What will change in my life today now that I know this?
5. You make rational excuses about why you can’t do what Jesus tells you to do.
When Jesus said that the stone should be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha
helpfully piped up that the stench would be awful. Sensible, logical, practical.
But Jesus had told them to open the tomb so why was Martha coming up with
reasons not to do it? Do you find yourself making excuses about why you
shouldn’t do what God is telling you to do? What? You don’t know what He is
telling you to do? Sure you do. For example, He told us to forgive people who
wrong us. But we often reason that the other person was at fault and they should
be the first to ask for forgiveness. He tells us to give generously to those in need
but we quite sensibly think we better get some bills paid off first. He tells us not
to worry about food and clothing but we think “How illogical and impractical is
that attitude? Someone’s got to worry about getting food on the table, right?” If
you find yourself rationally resisting what you know God has clearly told you to
do, double check your reasoning.
6. You’re still in the kitchen while others are lavishing worship on Jesus. Soon
after her brother was raised from the dead, Martha served another dinner to Jesus.
Perhaps this time she did it without complaining since we read without further
comment that she served. That’s a step in the right direction but the experience
still fell far short of what it could have been. Where was Mary during this dinner?
She was again at Jesus’ feet, this time pouring perfume on them and wiping them
with her hair. Why wasn’t Martha in on the worship? Jesus had already pointed
out to her the importance of sitting at His feet and her brother had just been raised
from the dead for heaven’s sake! She should have been falling all over Jesus but
she was too busy in the kitchen. (I wonder how she felt during those three days
that He was dead the following week?) Listen. Don’t waste your opportunities to
worship. If you generally find yourself washing dishes in the church kitchen
while the worship service goes on without you, stop. If you find yourself slipping
out before the end of a service or Bible study to go put out the coffee and snacks
for the fellowship hour afterwards, ask yourself why. Yes, you are right that
someone has to do these chores. But it doesn’t have to be you! Or, it can be
you—but you can organize it in such a way that you’re focused on worship, not
food. Remember that Jesus told the disciples that the poor would always be with
them when they criticized Mary for wasting her resources on worship rather than
giving to the poor. Well, the dishes, the coffee and the doughnuts will always be
with us too. Prioritize them several notches below worship.
It’s pretty obvious that Martha habits die hard. We see Martha three times in the gospels
and all three times we see her tendency to miss her opportunity to listen, to learn and to
worship. Use these six clues to determine whether you might be missing out on God’s
opportunities as well.