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Martha vs. Mary: 6 Clues You’re Acting More like Martha than Mary

We all know the New Testament sisters Mary and Martha. And we all know that Mary comes off better in the gospels. She’s the one commended by Jesus for choosing the one thing that was necessary. She’s the one He said would be remembered down through the ages for her act of pouring perfume on His feet. And she’s the one to whom the New Testament seems to attribute the salvation of many Jews—they came to visit Mary as she mourned her brother’s death, saw Lazarus resurrected and believed. Didn’t any of those Jews come to visit Martha? Maybe not. Maybe she was too much of a pain in the you know what.

The saddest thing about Martha is that her attitude caused her to miss out on so much: she missed the opportunity to sit at a Bible study led by Jesus; she misunderstood the comfort He offered her at her brother’s grave; left up to her own devices, she would even have missed the miracle of her brother’s resurrection; and finally she missed the opportunity to lavish love and attention on Jesus’ just days before He died.

Here are 6 clues that you’re acting more like a modern day Martha than like Mary and may be missing out on opportunities God offers you:

You are worried or distracted by many things. Frazzled. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off. You know what I am talking about. There’s a lot to do and it ALL seems to be a high priority. Jesus told Martha that she was worried and distracted by many things but that Mary had focused on the one necessary thing—sitting at Jesus’ feet. So when you begin to feel frazzled, stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you’ve done the one thing that was really necessary today. Did you sit at Jesus’ feet? Right now, whether you are in the kitchen, grocery store or office, put yourself at His feet and ask for His wisdom, peace and calm. Ask Him to bring your mind into focus, allay your worries, prioritize your day, and eliminate those things that don’t really need to be done.
You’re disgruntled because you feel like you are doing all the work. Notice Martha’s complaint to Jesus: my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Do you ever feel like Martha? Sure you do. I hear you: “My husband never does a thing around the house!” “The kids don’t appreciate all I do!” “My co-workers are a bunch of idiots. I have to do everything myself!” Well, maybe your complaints are true, but they’re still complaints. And they are the opposite of the servant’s attitude Christ demonstrated and His command to love your neighbor as yourself. When you hear yourself starting to complain like this it’s a flashing red light warning you that you probably aren’t spending enough time sitting at Jesus feet. Calm down and tell Him that you feel like you’ve been left holding the bag, ask for His help, and make sure you are setting aside time to spend alone with Him each day.
You feel like Jesus doesn’t care about your situation. Not only did Martha feel abandoned by her sister, she felt abandoned by Jesus. She said “Lord, don’t you care?” Her complaint sounds silly when we read it 2000 years later but how often do we feel the same way? Sometimes we outwardly accuse Him of not noticing the frustrating or painful situation we’re in. More often we just act like He doesn’t notice or care by failing to cast our worries, frustrations and fears on Him. He told us not to worry, but instead to pray. When we don’t do that—when we continue to fuss, fret and fume on our own—what are we saying? Acknowledge right now that He does care, even about the little domestic details, and talk to Him about them. You’ll get the same loving response and direction that Martha got.
You’re having theological discussions with Jesus instead of listening to Him. When her brother died, Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again. Martha immediately responded that she knew her brother would rise again in the resurrection at the last day. She got her doctrine right but she got what Jesus was saying to her that day wrong. Now, don’t mistake what I am saying here. We all need to learn basic doctrine, but for some of us the acquisition of Bible knowledge becomes more of a goal than hearing what God is saying to us through the Bible. If you find yourself listening to sermon after sermon and reading book after Christian book without asking yourself what it all means in your life right here and right now, you might be caught in Martha’s trap. When you read the Bible or listen to some teaching, start asking yourself what does this mean for me? What will change in my life today now that I know this?
You make rational excuses about why you can’t do what Jesus tells you to do. When Jesus said that the stone should be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha helpfully piped up that the stench would be awful. Sensible, logical, practical. But Jesus had told them to open the tomb so why was Martha coming up with reasons not to do it? Do you find yourself making excuses about why you shouldn’t do what God is telling you to do? What? You don’t know what He is telling you to do? Sure you do. For example, He told us to forgive people who wrong us. But we often reason that the other person was at fault and they should be the first to ask for forgiveness. He tells us to give generously to those in need but we quite sensibly think we better get some bills paid off first. He tells us not to worry about food and clothing but we think “How illogical and impractical is that attitude? Someone’s got to worry about getting food on the table, right?” If you find yourself rationally resisting what you know God has clearly told you to do, double check your reasoning.
You’re still in the kitchen while others are lavishing worship on Jesus. Soon after her brother was raised from the dead, Martha served another dinner to Jesus. Perhaps this time she did it without complaining since we read without further comment that she served. That’s a step in the right direction but the experience still fell far short of what it could have been. Where was Mary during this dinner? She was again at Jesus’ feet, this time pouring perfume on them and wiping them with her hair. Why wasn’t Martha in on the worship? Jesus had already pointed out to her the importance of sitting at His feet and her brother had just been raised from the dead for heaven’s sake! She should have been falling all over Jesus but she was too busy in the kitchen. (I wonder how she felt during those three days that He was dead the following week?) Listen. Don’t waste your opportunities to worship. If you generally find yourself washing dishes in the church kitchen while the worship service goes on without you, stop. If you find yourself slipping out before the end of a service or Bible study to go put out the coffee and snacks for the fellowship hour afterwards, ask yourself why. Yes, you are right that someone has to do these chores. But it doesn’t have to be you! Or, it can be you—but you can organize it in such a way that you’re focused on worship, not food. Remember that Jesus told the disciples that the poor would always be with them when they criticized Mary for wasting her resources on worship rather than giving to the poor. Well, the dishes, the coffee and the doughnuts will always be with us too. Prioritize them several notches below worship.
It’s pretty obvious that Martha habits die hard. We see Martha three times in the gospels and all three times we see her tendency to miss her opportunity to listen, to learn and to worship. Use these six clues to determine whether you might be missing out on God’s opportunities as well.

– Catherine Reid