There should never be a moment in a Christian’s life when we say there is nothing to do. There are always things to do when we live for the Lord. An important thing, then, is to keep a balance in our service. But we are not always consistent; at times we go off the rail in spite of best intentions.
Martha was just like any of us. She had the best intentions, but in this case she lost sense of her balance and allowed herself to get caught up in the rush of activities.
“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he (Jesus) entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word (Luke 10:38-39).”
She hurried into the kitchen to prepare a meal, perhaps also to prepare thirteen extra beddings for her unexpected guests. Meanwhile Jesus used the waiting time to teach his disciples, and Mary sat in listening. Martha was unhappy with her sister and grumbled to Jesus, perhaps loud enough so everyone in the room could hear her.
“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”
She was implying, “I’m doing a lot of work; I’m preparing for my 13 unexpected guests. Have you noticed how hard I’m working for you?” There was both pride and self-pity in this. She wanted the admiration and sympathy of the Lord. Her complaint was also an indirect criticism of Jesus. She believed he had failed to notice that Mary was not helping.
Jesus chided Martha. You could sense the patience and tenderness in the Lord’s voice. “And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things (Luke 10:41)…”
Firstly, Jesus addressed Martha’s need for attention. He did notice what she was doing. But her own self-pity blinded her to the fact that Jesus was aware of her efforts. The Lord reminded her that he knew and he cared.
Next, Jesus addressed Martha’s criticism of her sister. “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).” How many opportunities were there for anyone then to be a participant in one of Jesus’ private teaching sessions? Mary saw the opportunity and took it.
Finally, Jesus addressed Martha’s criticism of Him. He told her, “But one thing is needful. Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” In other words, he would not order Mary into the kitchen; she had made the right decision. Martha was wrong for implying that Jesus was not sensitive to her needs.
Please notice that Jesus did not scold Martha for not being in the study group. He approved of her working in the kitchen just as he approved of Mary attending class. Everyone would go hungry if Martha had not performed her role as a hostess.
We have to learn to be like both Martha and Mary; it would be right for Martha to join the class after she had carried out her responsibility as the hostess, but not before.
We need to spend time in God’s word, learning from the Lord and deepening our understanding of God and His will. But let us also learn that we have to make time for the hands-on work of the church: “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction (Jas 1:27).”
Working hard in one area does not excuse us from the other. We cannot neglect Bible study and prayer because we are so busy with everything else. But we also cannot say we only want to attend Bible studies and refuse to contribute to other works of the church. Neglecting either one of them is not right.
Martha wasn’t wrong for choosing to work in the back, making provisions for her guests. Hospitality is a wonderful quality in any Christian. Her mistake was in expecting everyone to agree with her: Mary ought to have helped her and Jesus ought to have known better that she needed help.
There is much to do for our Lord while we remain here. We must learn to discern the times when to prioritise one thing over another. Balance is important. The Lord knows our devotion and works.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (1Corinthians 15:58).”