Mary’s choice…

Posted by on Feb 7, 2021 in Blog | 9 comments

Many people love the account of Jesus’ meal at the home of Mary and Martha. For those of a more contemplative disposition, it is the quick trump card justifying stepping away from the fast lane and spending time with Jesus. For those with a more activist bent, it’s a reminder to sometimes slow down and sit at the feet of Jesus.  

Here’s a quick rehash of these 5 verses at the end of Luke 10. Jesus and his disciples arrive at a village (likely Bethany) and Jesus is invited to the home of one of the locals, Martha by name. While Martha prepares a meal (and it is not entirely clear if it was just for Jesus or for the 12 disciples as well) her sister Mary sits and listens to Jesus speaking. We have no idea what Jesus was saying, but it is clear that Mary found it enthralling. Martha was less impressed, and conscious of the magnitude of the preparations needing to be made (so probably it was for the disciples as well), she bursts in and asks Jesus to reprimand Mary for listening to him rather than helping her to make a memorable meal. But things don’t go Martha’s way, and Jesus famously replies: “Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

At this point most preachers validly focus on the importance of right priorities, and remind their congregation that people can’t live on bread alone, and to follow the example of Mary in setting aside enough time to focus on what is of ultimate significance.

Fair enough – I have often preached from this passage and I usually come out with that emphasis. But more recently I heard someone preaching on this text and in a throwaway comment they introduced an additional consideration.

They asked a simple question. Whose assessment of her did Mary accept?

It is clear that Martha assessed Mary as lazy, trying to get out of work – and who knows, perhaps she even wondered if Mary was trying to flirt with Jesus (after all, women who dared to genuinely converse with men in those days were considered a bit of a worry).

By contrast, Jesus considered her to have chosen wisely – to have prioritised her spiritual well being, and to have accurately sensed the significance of the occasion (how often could anyone hope to have the Messiah in their home? Why would you miss that to check that the mince wasn’t catching?) 

But after Jesus had left, Mary would have been home with Martha. Perhaps Martha would still have been growling, “thanks for dropping me like that. You always leave me to do everything. We might not live on bread alone, but we certainly won’t live without it! You always were a selfish, lazy, idealist.” 

Back in the daily grind, whose verdict of her did Mary accept? That of Martha or Jesus? 

While it is easy to assume it would be that of Jesus, there is something about a negative judgement that penetrates deeply and makes it really hard to hear the positive. Perhaps Martha’s verdict of her wasn’t that easy to forget.

And whose verdict of you, do you accept? 

That of Jesus, that you are a dearly beloved child of God – or that of other voices dragging you down? And if the latter, why not listen more closely to the verdict of Jesus…

As always, nice chatting…


  1. Comment
    Enjoyed this different slant on this event Brian. Thanks!

    • Thanks Trixie. Very good to hear from you.

  2. Please subscribe me to these.

    • Hi Joy. Depending on the devise you used to download this, you will find a button to subscribe. On an iPad it is usually to the side of the post towards the top, and says “Subscribe to this blog. Fill in your email.” Leaving your email is then all you need to do. If it is on a phone, it is likely to be at the very end of the post after all the comments, and you will see there is a box to tick saying, Notify me of new posts by email. You will have to fill in the same info you needed to fill in to make the comment. After that, all should be good and you will get an email sent to you every time a new post is put up.

      • Hi again Joy. I’ve just checked the subscription list and see you have been successfully added. Welcome!

  3. Love this story – so much is left unsaid we are always left wondering about the final outcome between the two sisters.

    • There is so much left unsaid. I’m thinking of writing a second post on this: In defence of Martha…

  4. I appreciate the issues being raised here, Brian.
    While reading them, an article by Charles Swindoll on Burning Out and Rusting Out came to mind. It’s in his book “Quest for Character” and he indicated that Burning Out and Rusting Out are both Out.
    He then focuses on what it means to be IN.
    Maybe, both Mary and Martha were both OUT, so to speak.
    What might have been IN in their context and situation?
    For example, if Mary had helped Martha a ‘tad’, they might both have been able to have some IN time with Jesus.

    • It is certainly a rich passage. Martha has a point. And appropriately juggling priorities is usually only possible with a little help from friends – so I love your question – what if Mary had helped Martha a tad – to the benefit of both… Thanks.


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