It was half past midnight, I had holed myself up in my hotel room at the Four Seasons in St. Louis, and I was going hard working on my latest attempt at a novel. I’d been writing for hours and had no intentions of stopping anytime soon, but then my phone buzzed on the table, snapping me out of the other world I hard immersed myself into. I leaned over and took a glance at the lit up screen, notifying me that I had a new text message.
I picked up the phone. Entered the passcode. Went to my inbox. Clicked on the new message.
I’m not quite sure on how to expand on the story Mary and Martha
It was from one of my close friends who was off at camp working as a counselor for the summer and was, apparently, currently assigned the task of developing a skit that displayed the story of Mary and Martha as told in Luke 10:38-42, while expanding on the story and displaying the overall lesson found within those five verses.
As was typical for a situation such as this, I pushed my laptop away and got to thinking. Pulled out my Bible and read through the passage, which was fairly short and to-the-point, understandably difficult to build upon:
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 few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
It had been a while—maybe a year or two— since I’d come across the passage, so it’s safe to say that—as is usual with passages I haven’t come across in a while—I was eager to dissect it. My friend asked for some ideas to implement into her skit, so I set to work. She was wanting to approach the skit from the perspective of a child taking a test, so I went off of that idea.
Imagine that there are two kids taking a test. One kid—let’s call her Martha—studies for ten hours straight, reading the book over and over, highlighting definition after definition, and looking up YouTube tutorials to help her better understand the concept. The other kid—we’ll call her Mary—only studies for two hours, but in the those two hours she studies the notes she took in class and prints out some practice exams released by her teacher in previous years. Though she only studied the material for one-fifth of the time, she has a better idea of what to expect on the test given by the teacher, since she knows what he emphasized in class (thanks to reading her notes) and knows what format of questions he typically provides and what subjects he emphasizes (thanks to the practice tests she took).
So, when it comes down to it, who did better on the test?
The truth is that we don’t know. Both Mary and Martha are capable of doing just as well on the test—they are both capable of earning a perfect score as long as they put the correct answers down on the Scantron—but it all depends on that final test. The teacher doesn’t care about how many hours the two students put into studying for the test; all he cares about is the final answer found on the Scantron. So while Martha would understandably be more prepared thanks to studying for so long, she very possibly emphasized the wrong materials, focusing on things that might not even show up on the test; for this reason, she goes into the test feeling stressed and unprepared, not knowing what to expect. On the other hand, though Mary studied for a far shorter period of time, she has a better idea of who the teacher is and what to expect him to put on the test, so she comfortably feels ready for the test and sits down ready to take it.
I believe that this is the same truth revealed to us in Luke chapter 10. Martha busies herself trying to impress Jesus through an amazing feast filled with unnecessary details and trivial elaborations, and then goes and complains to Jesus about how Mary didn’t help her out. Essentially, she’s like the student who complains to the teacher that some other student got a better grade than her despite not studying near as much.
And Jesus’ response is spine-chilling. He turns to her and says, “Martha, Martha.”
While this might not seem special to us now, we have to put it all in context. When things are repeated in the Hebrew language, it typically signifies importance, so we should pay special attention to this (Sure, the book of Luke was written in Greek, but Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic, which was the source for much of the Hebrew language). As Jesus turns to speak her name, we see that this is of importance due to its repetition, so it makes us question why it is important. In speaking her name, Jesus is essentially saying, “I know you, Martha. I know the things you are facing and I know the solution. Just listen to me.” It’s like a parent getting onto their child, or, more fittingly, a teacher getting onto their student. If a teacher walked up to me and said, “David, David,” I would know that it’s probably time to shut up and listen, because they have something to say that is specific to the action I just performed. You can imagined Jesus clicking his tongue, as if in disappointment.
Jesus goes on to tell Martha that she is worried about a bunch of little things that really don’t matter; in the end, there is only one thing that matters, and Mary is the one giving that one thing—Jesus—the attention he deserves. While there is nothing wrong with busying yourself with other things and trying to put on a good show for a guest, if you ignore the guest the entire time, the effort put in is effortless.
Essentially, Jesus is saying that while good works are a good thing that source themselves from good intentions, it’s the relationship with God Himself that matters. Jesus appreciates the effort that Martha was putting in, but He would appreciate it more if she was building up her relationship with Him, as her sister Mary was doing. Good works don’t get you to heaven, but Jesus does.
The thing is, you could do good works and very possibly have a solid relationship with Jesus, but if your “salvation” is based off of the good deeds you do, then you don’t have salvation at all, because salvation isn’t based off of works—it’s based off of faith by grace alone (Eph. 2:8). Martha accepted Jesus into her home and spent the entire time He was there trying to impress Him, but she never spent the time to actually sit down and get to know Him. This is like the Christian who goes to church and thinks they can earn their salvation by donating thousands of dollars to charity and offering people a place to stay, but that’s not how it works!
Salvation by grace is an idea unique to Christianity and Christianity alone, and Mary seemed to recognize this as she sat there and conversed with Jesus. She recognized that, while going out and doing good things is definitely a way to promote the kingdom of God and help make the world a better place, it is fruitless if your relationship with God isn’t established. She realized that she didn’t need to earn Jesus’ love by preparing Him a fantastic meal—she just needed to be real with Him.
Another analogy would be visualized through the lives of two churchgoers and the way they viewed their relationship with God. One man unfailingly goes to church every single service, standing on the front row each Sunday morning and Wednesday night without fail, singing the loudest of those around him and being the “go-to” guy when it comes to getting connected to the church. He’s best friends with the pastor and he knows pretty much every member of the church, but, despite what many would think, he really doesn’t find much passion in the whole God-aspect of things. He goes to church more so for the social aspect of it all, and though he thinks the sermons are grand and the music is lovely, his heart really isn’t in it. On the other hand, the second guy is a much less frequent church-goer, making it every now and then but occasionally tied up by other things going on in his life. However, it is those moments he spends with God—whether that be with his nose planted in the Bible, his mind lost in constant prayer, or his chance to actually attend church—that he is truly happy, because it is his relationship with God that he puts first in his life. Yes, he enjoys the social aspect of church, but that’s not why he goes. He isn’t studying his Bible to give off any specific image or to make himself seem holier than others, but instead to build on his relationship with God. When compared to the story we’ve read, the first church-goer is representative of Martha whereas the second church-goer is a lot like Mary, focused on God rather than the presentation of their faith.
I seem to always do this, but this story ties in very well into the book of Ecclesiastes and how everything is “meaningless under the sun” (Ecc. 1:14). Martha wanted to impress Jesus with her works, but will that feast go on with her into heaven? Will that feast she prepared earn her a spot beyond those pearly gates? Certainly not. It is meaningless, like chasing after the wind. Not necessarily a bad thing, but meaningless nevertheless. However, Mary “has chosen what is better,” as Jesus tells us in the last verse of the passage. “It will not be taken away from her.”
The things we do on earth will not go on with us to heaven, but our relationship with Jesus will never be taken from us. “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17), and we know that it is God’s will that we get to know Him and love Him (Hosea 8:2, Mark 12:30). Earthly things are cool and whatnot, but it’s the time spent with the Son that really matters. Martha looked to the things under the sun, but Mary looked to the Son, and that’s the difference between the two sisters.
So, moral of the story: don’t base your faith off of the things you do. Just a few chapters later in the book of Luke, we read the parable of a man who is knocking on the door of a homeowner who claims to not know him (13:22-30).
“We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets,” the man says to the homeowner (v. 26). But what does the owner reply?
“I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27)
All because you eat a meal with God doesn’t mean you have a relationship with Him. All because you go out and do something for God doesn’t mean that you and He are on good terms. You can be a pastor standing at the pulpit preaching every day of the week, but your salvation is only secured if you “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). Many will try to enter through the narrow door but will not be able to because they don’t understand the guidelines (Luke 13:24), so understand the guidelines! That’s the story of Mary and Martha, and that’s the message it is trying to convey.
Don’t put your hopes in things under the sun, but in the Son Himself.