Martha’s Problem

Luke 10: 38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This passage is usually related in a single context.  That is, a call to stop being distracted by the things of house and home (or work) and take time to sit at Jesus’ feet.  It can be a confusing teaching, because Jesus isn’t really here with us and his feet aren’t right there- so what should be do?  Well, we are told, pay attention to teachings, read your Bible, fellowship with the believers instead of worrying about what to have for dinner.

As a woman I’ve always been irritated by this- especially when I was living in Mexico and the men would regularly nag their wives for being “Marthas” when they were trying to get the food out.  It felt to me like disrespect, because the women have their own way of fellowshipping and serving God and they did it by serving their men.

The truth is, Marthas- in one sense- are necessary.  We need people who think about things like what we’ll eat and if the table will be clean.  So what, exactly, was Martha’s problem?

Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus said.  “You worry about many things, but one thing is needed.”

Doesn’t it seem like he really is trying to help her?  He’s acknowledging the frustration and pain she’s feeling, he’s inviting her to join in the fellowship.  He’s not coarsely reprimanding her and saying that Mary is better, he’s simply saying that Mary chose something better by allowing herself to be ministered to.  Martha’s problem is the hardness of her heart.

Think about it more.  Martha invited Jesus and the disciples into her home.  She took upon herself the burden of meeting their needs.  She did not have to make that choice.  Why did she do it?  Did she want to hear the teachings, or did she want the status that (in that society) came from being a hostess?  Was she seeking some sort of fulfilment?  And if so, did she feel that her sister was somehow harming her by not helping her to put on the kind of show she wanted?

Perhaps Martha’s problem was selfishness, and that is why Jesus responded that Mary’s good choice would not be taken from her.  He wouldn’t allow Martha selfishness.

In any case, I don’t think that Martha’s problem was wanting everyone to have food.  No, Martha’s problem was somewhere in her heart.


3 thoughts on “Martha’s Problem

  1. This Scripture would not be much of a stretch to see a modern day woman inviting someone to visit her home and then making everyone miserable by chastising them that they need to hurry and clean up before the guest(s) get there.

    Martha had good qualities too:
    Received Jesus (v 38)
    Served Jesus (v 40; Jn. 12:2
    First to go to Hi when in need (Jn. 11:20, 30)

    Mary also had good qualities:
    Sat at Jesus’ feet (v39)
    Heard His word (v 39)
    Put first things first (v 42)
    Anointed Jesus (Jn. 11:2; 12:3)
    Had faith in Him (Jn. 11:32)
    One of nine persons to fall down before Jesus (Jn. 11:32)

    You could be correct in that Martha’s problem was selfishness. “Come to my house”. That surely could be an impure heart of pride.

  2. and then making everyone miserable by chastising them that they need to hurry and clean up before the guest(s) get there

    I have family members (mostly women) that do that.

    Very astute post, Shush. I think you’re spot on.

  3. I’ve wondered in the past if it wasn’t a “What does she think she’s doing, hanging out in there? She should be helping me in here!”

    Agreed completely that this is a very misread passage, especially the “anxious and troubled” part, which sounds like genuine concern, not a reprimand. Perhaps, as you say, we’re champions at missing the obvious, or putting a superficial slant on Jesus’ words. “Superficial” would, in this case, include assuming that Jesus was just making statements of blame… which I don’t believe is the case at all. And note that Jesus addresses Martha’s feelings/attitude, not her actions.

    Martha has gotten an undeservedly bad rap, in all kinds of ways.

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