Martha? or Mary? You Choose

“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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

If we assume that this story teaches that domestic chores and hard word don’t matter, we miss the point. Jesus wasn’t devaluing the role of serving. Rather he was comparing two sisters.

Look at the description of Martha: distracted, worried, upset.

Contrast that description with Mary: sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said.

Mary takes the role of a disciple, sitting at the feet of the Teacher. Martha, irritated that Mary’s not helping her, enlists Jesus to tell Mary to get busy. Jesus ignores her request, and instead gently rebukes her.

Jesus critiques the situation in this way—both sisters actions reflect a choice. And Mary has chosen what is better. In fact, what Mary is doing is the one.essential.thing.


Fast-forward to the 21st century. This frantic culture demands performance the minute our alarm goes off. A million and ten things await us—an endless barrage. And many worthy pursuits vie for our attention. In the course of each day we face the same two choices as the sisters: be occupied for Jesus, or be occupied with Jesus.

The struggle, the tension, the pressure—we all feel it. The desire to be industrious and productive pulls us away from the one.essential.thing.

Life’s brevity compels me to look ahead and make choices based on that final day. Will I carry regret for a distracted, anxious life?

I’d rather hear the words, “Well done, you chose the one.essential.thing.”

4 comments to Martha? or Mary? You Choose

  • Carmen Cole

    Thank you for this essential message today.

  • Vickie

    Janet, I confess this is something I struggle with and believe it is just another deception from the enemy of our souls. Satan can take something that we are trying to accomplish for God’s glory and add the distraction of stress to it, and create the Martha attitude in us. Jesus always peels back our actions to our motives, and the real fruit gets exposed. Am I more interested in what people will think of the work I am accomplishing or am I only interested in abiding in Him, which is the attitude He treasures? I love work, I love action and movement, I love to see things accomplished, that comes natural to me, so I plan and do a lot, but I always pray for the ability to recognize when stressors related to the work try to work their way in. They are getting pretty easy to recognize the more of the Word I memorize. The work of memorization helps refute the work of Satan by bearing witness with my spirit that anything I am doing, even if it is a work I think I am doing for Christ, that is not bearing joy and peace in my heart, needs an attitude adjustment. Thank you for this post, it is timely for me now, the Lord always knows what we need and when we need it! Praise His Name!

  • Donna

    You know I love Martha…I always have. God love her. I am a Martha from way back. But I get the point that Jesus is making and I love the point you made: “Will I carry regret for a distracted, anxious life?” Thank you for reminding us that this is the essential thing and that memorizing scripture can help to keep us at His feet!
    I love you dearly.

  • Chérie

    How funny is it that the person everyone relates the Martha mentality to is in actuality a ‘Martha’, —Martha Stewart. Her name isn’t a name anymore but a verb. “No, I can’t go shopping, I’ve gotta stay home and Martha-Stewart my house…..” 
    It’s also an adjective.., “Oh my gracious, have you all seen Susie’s house? It’s so Martha Stewart…”

    Yet I wonder how many Marthas are true God-designed, type A, perfectionist-energizer-bunnies, and how many Marthas are actually masking their pain by killing themselves to make everything run perfect and look perfect because then everyone around them “thinks” they are perfect.

    Little Miss Mary knew how IM-perfect she was and how she needed to draw strength from her Savior just by being still and worshipping at his feet.
    I’ll never be a Martha, (with homeschooling? No way?—you dont WANNA see my house?) but being still is almost impossible for me, so remembering Mary is a fantastic reminder of the one.essential.thing. Thanks Janet.