Martha and Mary (last in a series)

Mary has chosen the better part…” (Luke 42)

For the past two weeks I have been writing about the story of Martha and Mary, which is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter ten, verses thirty-eight through forty-two. The first week I addressed the remarks Jesus made about Mary’s choice to sit at his feet and learn instead of helping Martha in the kitchen. Last week I wrote about the tradition of hospitality Martha felt bound to uphold, which deprived her of time with Jesus.

Martha resented her sister, Mary, who broke with tradition and joined the men as they studied with Jesus in a separate room – leaving the work of preparing a meal for their guests to Martha. When she complained to Jesus about her sister’s lack of help he told her only one thing was necessary – spending time in study with him – and that Mary had chosen to spend her time wisely.

This story does not only address the tensions between two women who lived more that two thousand years ago. It speaks directly to modern Christians who tend to be busy with many things, except with what is truly necessary – spending time with Jesus. The point Jesus made to Martha is that time “at his feet” should come before everything else she felt obligated to do. What this means for us, practically speaking, is that we should rearrange our schedules and reorder our priorities so that time spent getting to know Jesus, better and better, and in the study of God’s word to us in Scripture, comes first.

However, setting aside “Jesus-time” is a difficult thing for modern followers of Jesus. Many of us are busy raising families, working at a job outside the home, and helping out at church. Yet, according to Jesus the one needful thing in our daily life is study. Once we establish the practice of sitting “at the feet” of Jesus it will begin to inform and influence for the better everything else we do including our work, our care for our family, and our participation at church. Our life’s purpose will become clearer.  

Our pursuit of being a disciple first and foremost will help us become much better at discerning God’s direction and the movement of the Spirit. This means we won’t end up spending time engaged in unnecessary activities or worries concerning our children, our jobs, or our church. More likely, we will find ourselves walking in God’s will in all these matters and we will experience a sense of peace and hopefulness about our present and future.

As a result of our time at Jesus’ feet, there is a much greater likelihood we will start doing only what is necessary and good to do, and cease doing what does not serve God’s purposes. Getting the food on the table and impressing one’s guests wasn’t as important as Martha thought it was. When discipleship under Jesus comes first, everything that comes after is much clearer and doable and bearable.

But it’s hard to change old habits. If you’re like me you respond first to whatever is trying to get your attention the loudest. Finding time for Jesus, in addition to everything else you feel the need to do, is next to impossible. If this is the case, then your schedule has become a rival to Jesus for your attention.

So my advice is this: start out by making minor changes. Make your time with Jesus a priority in small, but significant, ways. For instance, before your feet hit the floor in the morning spend some time with Jesus in praise and thanksgiving. Before you start your activities for the day read from your Bible. Then, schedule a “meeting” with Jesus at mid-day. Write it into your daily planner if you need to. Just close the door of your office, or tell your children you are going to be in time-out for the next few minutes, and read a couple of Psalms. Take time again before supper or before bedtime. But, do only what is possible; don’t try to overachieve – it will only defeat the purpose of this discipline. Eventually you will find it’s possible to do a bit more… and in time, a bit more than that.

Make sure you have time alone with Jesus and time with Jesus in a group of fellow Christians. Join a Bible study or small group, if you don’t currently attend one. Study with someone who is called by God to teach. Read books and other writings by Christians who demonstrate, through their words and their life, that time at Jesus’ feet is the greatest priority in their life. And finally, lay all your concerns and decisions before Jesus. Seek his will in all things.

Many Christians make the same mistake Martha did: they haven’t chosen the good portion. They believe the lie that says there are other things in life more important or more pressing. But Martha’s sister, Mary, models for all of us how to ignore the lie and seek the truth. If he isn’t already, it’s time to make Jesus the one thing necessary in your life.

Next week: A new series – the role of Scripture in the life of a Christian

If you would like to hear my sermon on the story of Martha and Mary click the pulpit icon below:

About Claudia Dickson Greggs

I am an Anglican priest, author, wife and mother. Writing and teaching about Christian life and faith are passions of mine.
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5 Responses to Martha and Mary (last in a series)

  1. Rick says:

    Thank you for all that you are pointing out in this series of teaching.

    Jesus was constantly breaking the cultural rules of the day. He did it here, at Mary & Martha’s. Another time was when he spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar.

    Jesus is not of this world. He was in it, but not of it. I don’t think I remember hearing that Jesus was in the world but not of it related to breaking these cultural rules of this world.

    I wonder how many Christians understand that this is part of our being in the world but not of it? I hadn’t in these terms before, although I had seen that many self-proclaimed Christians adopted the rules of this world as opposed to the “rules” of the Kingdom of God, which is a higher realm. I am sure I have. But in seeking Jesus, more and more I see Christians being in the world and of it, rather than acting and teaching the Kingdom of God. Hopefully, as we change our time allocation to spending time at Jesus’ feet, more of us will see the Standards of the Kingdom and live according to them, me included. In churches, the norm is being busy going to meetings, and church classes that don’t teach the Kingdom, but rather the Kingdom through the rules of the world, etc., rather than actually sitting at Jesus’ feet. People are reinforced in the ways of the world, and that’s very sad.

    I know that things in other areas of life are going better since I have started making time to sit at Jesus’ feet.

    • Rick, I’ve observed over the years that some churches are more interested in producing faithful members (by developing programs that lead to “brand” loyalty and enthusiasm) than in forming faithful Christians (by making time at Jesus’ feet the number one priority). There’s a big difference between the two.

      Thank you so much for your comments. I am so glad to hear this series has been a blessing to you. Praise God!


      • Rick says:

        Ah, brand loyalty. Yes, that’s exactly what it is! Insidious, but if you have a large organization, you have to keep the infrastructure up and the staff paid or nothing gets done, and having a loyal/faithful membership, one loyal to the organization, gets the bills paid.

        Interestingly, Jesus didn’t seem to worry too much about that sort of thing, even though He did have a following of disciples for which to care and to provide.

        Anyway, the condition of the church is sad today. We have a friend now who could really have used some Kingdom teaching, but who likely has not received it, and is struggling with some very heavy issues that the worldly teaching won’t deal with – unless maybe it tells folks to accept them as right.

        Thanks, again. Much to consider and think about.

  2. Rick says:

    I was reading this morning in Isaiah 53-56. I know this is a few weeks since this series was posted, but what I read this morning reminded me of this series, of Jesus breaking cultural norms, and of other issues you’ve dealt with here.

    In Isaiah 55:6-9, it tells us to seek the Lord while He may be found, and that part of seeking Him and finding Him and receiving His compassion has to do with letting “the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” I am finding that many churches don’t seem to teach (or professed Christians don’t seem to accept) this – the need for repentance and turning from our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts in order to secure God’s compassion and forgiveness. we desperately need to be reminded of this.

    He goes on to say, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” As we seek God, we must seek Him on His terms, forsaking our ways and thoughts and reading/hearing His thoughts and adopting His ways continually. Having this as our standard of living would go a long way toward ridding the Church of the loose types of Christianity we see in churches today which lead to heretical thoughts and ways.

    But also, reading the section on His ways and thoughts being higher than ours, I saw that this is also related to Jesus breaking cultural standards – at Martha and Mary’s, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in talking to the Woman at Jacob’s well,… Jesus demonstrates this passage in Isaiah – God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

    • Rick, I agree — the notion of cheap grace abounds in Christianity. Those who think they’ve done nothing wrong assume they are not in need of God’s compassion or forgiveness. God offers both, freely, but he won’t force them on the uninterested. However, those who can freely admit they are sinners in need of redemption are more likely to forsake their own ways and seek God’s. Thanks for your comment. Claudia

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