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10 April

If Only Martha Could Have Ordered Delivery Pizza

I have always thought Mary’s sister, Martha, gets a bad rap in Christian circles. This is probably because I am much more like Martha than Mary. I’m a practical girl. You say, “Let’s take a trip!” I say, “Do we have enough gas to get there?” For many years, I wrestled with this aspect of my personality because everyone at church thought it was better to be a Mary than a Martha. Then I finally dug into the story of Jesus at Martha’s house (Luke 10:38-42), and I realized she was not wrong to fix those guys something to eat!

In Luke 10, we may be looking at the first time Jesus ever set foot in Martha’s home. She welcomed Him and his companions into her home (v. 38). They had been travelling and were most certainly hungry. Since they couldn’t order delivery pizza, it was necessary to prepare a meal.

The distinction may be subtle, but follow for a minute. Jesus, the disciples, and everyone else expected Martha to prepare something. Thing is, Martha got distracted by the preparations (v. 40).
Martha clearly had some pride issues because the preparations took every ounce of her energy and focus. She wanted to make German Chocolate Cake when boxed brownies would have been sufficient. But Martha’s motives may have been good. When I have someone special in my home, I want to give them the very best I have to offer—not for myself but as a way to honor that person.
All of us have walked that fine line between honoring our guests and wanting to be honored for our exceptional hospitality (or any other gift from Him). My kids ask why we clean the house before company comes over. There are days when it’s hard to answer honestly.

Jesus is so gracious to Martha when she complains (v.41). His words make me think He reached out to her, ignoring the dirty apron, the burn on one hand and the worn-out potholder on the other, the sweat dripping down her temple, and the frizz of hair escaping her headscarf. I think He stopped whatever deep and important conversation was developing (or whatever joke was being told, because we know Jesus liked to laugh!), waited until her eyes met his, and spoke into her heart: “We don’t need a lot, Martha....” I think there was gratitude in His tone—something which told Martha He appreciated her service and understood her situation.

I spent years trying to comprehend the “one thing” of which Jesus spoke next. He said, “Few things are needed—or indeed only one” (v. 42). Here’s what He meant: Mary chose to focus on Jesus. Martha chose to get distracted. The one thing needed was to prioritize Jesus.

I don’t think Jesus expected Martha to drop the potholder, wipe the sweat from her brow, ignore the burning rice, and sit down there with the others. We don’t know for sure because–frustratingly—the narrative stops there. We don’t even know how Martha responded. It seems more likely, however, she simply needed to adjust her mindset.  While Mary sat and worshiped, Martha would serve and worship. Both would then be operating within the will of God.

So, my fellow Christ-following Martha-types out there, there is nothing wrong with cooking dinner (or counting how many pizzas to order). There is certainly nothing wrong with hospitality, and there is nothing wrong with giving God our absolute best. We can go ahead and bake the German Chocolate Cake if we can do it without losing our focus on Him and His glory.

Are we distracted from knowing Him by serving Him? Are we more interested in what people will think than how God will be glorified? Get these things sorted out, and our service becomes an act of worship, which is what God intended when He created you and me.

Question for reflection: How have the Mary/Martha labels affected your service at church? How can you find freedom in living out exactly who God created you to be? We’d be honored if you would share your thoughts in the comments below.


Intrigued by this brief study of Mary and Martha? Catch the longer version of this post on Carole Sparks’ blog. She has also written a four-week Bible Study about these siblings. Contact Carole for early access to Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus before it’s available to the public. You can find her most days on Twitter, Facebook, and/or her blog.

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