Mary and Martha

MARY AND MARTHA: Getting their priorities sorted

Bible reading: 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 few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Time and place are important…

  • Wrong time, wrong place… Someone takes a short-cut along an isolated lane and is attacked… It was the wrong time to be in that wrong place.
  • Wrong time, right place… We agree to meet someone and we’re both waiting at the same time but different places!
  • Right place, wrong time… I once received a letter from my mother asking me to meet her at a certain time and place … In my haste, I thought her letter said to meet at 12 noon but in fact it said 2pm… We both turned up at the right place but I was at the wrong time.

Right place, right time… God says to us, “This is the way, walk in it” He won’t get the time or place muddled.

WE NEED TO BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE but also to use the time well…

  • Bob next door… always busy despite two artificial knees!
  • A lady I met when speaking recently… she was anxious because her husband spent all day watching TV

MARY AND MARTHA were sisters who lived in a village a few miles from Jerusalem

  • The common interpretation of this event is that Mary was the spiritual one and Martha the worldly on
  • The truth is that both sisters displayed important qualities…

MARY was willing to stop what she was doing in her busy schedule and carve out time to listen to Jesus … she had a LISTENING HEART

MARTHA invited Jesus and the disciples to stay in the first place and was keen to serve them … she had a SERVANT heart

The difference between the sisters is that MARY got her                  b   right… MARTHA got her priorities muddled

  • Mary wasn’t superior to her sister… simply wiser
  • Martha wasn’t inferior to her sister… but she was grappling with deeper issues than busyness (as we note a little later)

BUSYNESS is the scourge of the modern age

Who was it that said that hurry is not of the devil… it is the devil!

  • Certainly, the advent of modern technology means that people can be contacted any time, any place, day or night
  • Journalists used to file their report and ’switch off’ until the next assignment… not any more! It’s a 24-hour per day job.
  • Businesses rely on instant responses… next day delivery
  • Politicians, celebrities, the rich and famous are quoted within minutes of speaking… their words are transmitted and commented on almost before they’ve drawn breath!
  • Sports events are timed to the split second… Satellites and other gadgets can measure and record every detail of everything that moves and send it to your computer in an instant!


  • The older you get, the faster time seems to go
  • When you are eagerly anticipating something, time seems to drag…when you are immersed in something or with someone whose company you enjoy, time shoots past
  • When you are at work, time is governed by deadlines
  • When you are on holiday, time is governed by your empty stomach!

Retired people say they have never been so busyHow did I ever find time to go to work?

The prospect of building a Time Machine has captured people’s imaginations for centuries…

  • Being able to go back in time to correct all the mistakes you made!
  • There wouldn’t be enough time to do it all!

A school friend of mine used to say that if he went back in time but knew what he knows now, he’d probably still make the same mistakes! 

As we grow older, we learn to appreciate the time we’ve got and become less anxious about it…

A friend of mine told me that he was waiting with his family for a country restaurant to open. After nearly 20 minutes, he became agitated and exclaimed to a local man who was also standing there: “What’s going on? The place was supposed to be open 20 minutes ago!” The local man smiled and said simply: “What be 20 minutes in a lifetime?”… My friend told me that this comment instantly changed his attitude to life. He realised that the man possessed a patience that my friend needed in his own life.

  • On the other hand, a lot depends on which 20 minutes we are talking about!

Some passengers were delayed for their holiday and missed the cruise ship they had booked to sail on…terrible disappointment…until some weeks later they heard the tragic news about The Titanic

  • Or imagine that you have 20 minutes to evacuate a house before it collapses!
  • Or to get to the hospital before your loved one dies…

TIME IS NOT A PROBLEM for God… a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a single day


  1. What are you doing?
  2. Why are you doing it?

I am increasingly convinced that God is less interested in what we do and much more interested in our motives for doing it…

  • I can show someone kindness… but do so because I hope to gain something from him/her!
  • This is NOT the unconditional love that God demands

I might be seen hitting a lady on the back very hard … either because I want to injure her … or to save her life because she is choking!

So our MOTIVES are of prime importance… not just what we do but why we do them

HARD WORK is good and proper… Faithfulness and perseverance are wonderful attributes…

  • But there is little point in working hard at something that brings little benefit… wood, hay and stubble!
  • Or work that keeps you from attending to the essentials of life, especially close communion with God through Jesus Christ

The way we spend our time depends in part on our life situation… For example:

  • A YOUNG MUM with two toddlers at home doesn’t have the luxury of spending an hour or two praying and reading the Bible!
  • If you have responsibilities as a carer, you have less flexibility about how you use your time

BUT THE OFT-USED EXPRESSION, “I haven’t got time” is misleading…

  • We all have 24 hours in the day… it’s what we do with the time that makes the difference

IT’S INSTRUCTIVE THAT MARTHA gets upset when her sister sits at Jesus’ feet…

Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?

What a question! (“Don’t you care?”)

  • It’s when we feel aggrieved about life that we start blaming God

But notice Jesus’ gracious response…

  • No rebukes or sarcasm or making her feel badly about herself
  • Simply a statement of fact…

Martha, Martha… 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

What is the “one thing” that will not be taken away from Mary?

  • Mary chose to listen to Jesus first, before launching into the task
  • Doing the task is fine and necessary… but how much better to be motivated by a love for Jesus and a desire to serve Him


  • If we do things in our own strength, He leaves us to our own devices… which is what many people say they want… “I don’t need a crutch… I can stand on my own two feet
  • And God says, that’s fine… but you must accept the consequences.

Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong… she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time

  • The place she should FIRST have been was in submission to Jesus
  • Instead, she was “just getting on with things”

BUT THIS EVENT ISN’T SO MUCH ABOUT BEING TOO BUSY as it is about the state of Martha’s heart…

  • Jesus said she was “worried and upset about many things

Yes, she had 13 men to feed and needed help in the kitchen!

  • But behind the busyness lay deeper issues for Martha

Martha was struggling with her inner turmoil

  • And the right place to be was at the feet of Jesus
  • The one who has said that He will give us His special peace that passes understanding
  • The one who calmed the storm and rebuked the winds and waves
  • The one who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us


  • It’s learning to yield our lives to Jesus… and let Him be our guide

The Bible teaches us that brokenness is a pre-requisite to blessing and usefulness. No one ever achieves spiritual greatness until he or she has fully surrendered to God. Victorious living comes only as we abandon ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, becoming His loving bond slave. God’s best for our lives is not the result of struggle. Rather, it is simply the acceptance of His perfect will and the recognition of His authority in every area of our lives (Kenneth Osbeck)

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