Marthas Among Us

By on January 14, 2013

By Cathy Messecar –

Worry over everyday things may be the most common of all our troublesome thoughts. Without exploring all the scriptures about the prominent New Testament sisters Mary and Martha, let’s think about the scene in Martha’s home (Luke 10:38-42). At a women’s day event, Betty McDaniel said that sometimes she is “Martha-to-the bone.” Me, too! Do you find yourself—like Martha—worrying about the meaningless while passing over the worthwhile?

Jesus and his disciples arrived in Bethany where Martha invited them to refresh themselves in her home. I reveal Martha-like tendencies when I invite people over and then, YIKES! The numerous details of making folk comfortable assail me. After all, I have hostessing standards!

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I love that it was Martha who initiated an invitation to the dusty travelers—Jesus, his disciples, and maybe other men and women in his entourage. Readers unduly judge Martha sometimes. Through this occasion as hostess, she becomes labeled as a worrier. But remember, she had the heart of a hostess and opened her home to the traveling Lord and his weary disciples.

To serve refreshments or even a light meal to a dozen or more would have been no small task. Imagine the labor-intensive preparations involved with getting food from the market to table, plucking a chicken and tucking it into a stewpot. She certainly didn’t get any help from Mary. No wonder Martha felt overwhelmed! At some point during the flurry of that day, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Miffed, Martha approached Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40).

Picture the scene at Martha’s house: An intimate group of friends gather. Very much at ease with one another, they undoubtedly show their emotions—Martha toward Jesus and Jesus toward Martha. In the recorded conversations of our Lord with others, he sometimes repeated the name of the person addressed (“Simon, Simon,” “Saul, Saul”). I imagine Jesus’ facial expression as understanding, with a good dose of warmth in his voice, as he said to his hostess, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed” (v. 41). Though Martha’s words revealed her discontent, our insightful Lord guided her away from her worries.

After Jesus’ gentle rebuke, perhaps Martha surveyed the spread of dumplings, fruit, bread, and cheese. I can just imagine her—hands on hips—saying, “You’re right, Lord. It is enough.” Maybe she turned to the disciples and said, “Brothers, sisters, enjoy. Help yourselves.” I see her joining her sister Mary, grabbing her hand, and then pleading with her eyes for Mary’s and Jesus’ forgiveness. She could have. Dr. Luke doesn’t share the rest of the story with us.

The Pulpit Commentary refers to Martha’s anxiety as a “petulant outburst of jealousy in the living, busy matron.” Who among us hasn’t had a breakdown of that sort? A “temporary petulance.”[i] Loosely translated, that means a short-term tantrum. Such petty things that cause them—they’re what I stumble over nearly every day.

In this world, there are “Marys,” those who are more contemplative, and there are “Marthas,” those who do the day-to-day chores. Even in homes and workplaces today, many people work behind the scenes to enable preachers, thinkers, speakers, and writers to go on with their work. “Your Marys could not sit at Jesus’ feet unless the Marthas were going about the house.”[ii] A hearty hooray for the keepers of our homes! We should note that Jesus did not disparage homemaking, but only Martha’s tendency toward allowing the tasks to become a burden.

I’ve no doubt that Martha often had Mary’s help in the kitchen, but on the day of Jesus’ visit, cooking, cleaning and serving held no allure for Mary. She had a deeper yearning. The Transforming Word commentary says Mary’s choice counters “prevailing expectations of women in first century culture.”[iii] Their roles were of a domestic nature which often included self-denial. Jesus’ words about Mary, that she had “chosen what is better,” affirmed that God saw women as not only domestics but disciples as well.

Mary smelled all the good food aromas that day. She was aware of feet and dishes to be washed, but the one good thing of lasting value was Jesus Christ, truth in person. Mary made a bold choice. She defied the conventional service of a woman. She grabbed hold of a rare opportunity.

On that day, both Jesus and Martha offered bread. Martha’s bread would soon be forgotten. No one on earth can tell you what meal she prepared. No one can name a single recipe or spice she used, but Jesus’ everlasting bread is still with us.

We can learn contentment whether we are a Mary-Martha mix or we lean toward being a doer such as Martha or a contemplative like Mary. Both are welcome in the kingdom. Both are needed. When the to-do list requires the baking of bread, the cleaning of a house, then work the chores with joy and without fretting. When a day offers time with Jesus who feeds souls, choose to quiet your Martha and abide in a Mary-moment with Jesus.

  • Do-er or listener?
  • Busy or quiet?
  • Bread of earth?
  • Bread of heaven?
  • Choose well.

[i] Pulpit Commentary. 1962 ed. 16, MARK & LUKE. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (Grand Rapids,

Mich.: Eerdmans, 1950), 285.

[ii] Ibid.,

[iii] The Transforming Word One-Volume Commentary on the Bible . Mark W. Hamilton, ed. (Abilene, Tex.: Abilene Christian University Press, 2009), 804.

Author Cathy Messecar speaks at local and national women’s retreats, women’s Bible classes, garden and social clubs, MOPS, retired teachers and writing guilds.

She currently writes for The Courier, a daily with Houston Community Newspapers (over 600 columns). Her latest book is a Bible study book for individual or groups, A Still and Quiet Soul: Embracing Contentment (2011). She also wrote The Stained Glass Pickup: Glimpses of God’s Uncommon Wisdom (2006), a book of devotions, and co-authored A Scrapbook of Motherhood Firsts: Stories to Celebrate and Wisdom to Bless Moms (2012) and A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts: Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday (2008). Her Website:

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Marthas Among Us