Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
This passage of scripture has always puzzled me. "Martha was distracted with much serving." Aren't we supposed to serve? Did the Lord expect her to welcome him and his followers into their home and not be hospitable? Shouldn't she have expected her sister to help her prepare for their guests? Wasn't it reasonable for Martha to see Mary's choice as selfish and lazy? Isn't doing our duty important to God and equally as honoring to Him as time in prayer and devotion?
Certainly, there is evidence of this in scripture. In the Old Testament we are given an ouline of our duty to God, to each other and there are even provisions made for family members to fulfill the duty left undone or unfinished by others who have died. There are more scriptures about what we do by way of duty than what we do alone in quiet devotion, prayer and bible study. The gist is, we are to live out in our homes, with family members and friends, in service to the church and the needy what we get from God when we are alone with Him.
So why chastise Martha?
I've heard many teachings on this subject and often the lesson we are told to gleen is that we are prone to do too much doing and not enough sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus. This admonition is good and right and true...I just don't think it tells the whole story. We cannot always be (physically) sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus. There is work to be done, others to serve, duties to be performed. I do not see this passage as an admonition to shirk these in favor of the more "spiritual" acts of worship and devotion. I believe the rest of scripture bears out the idea that the faithful carrying out of our duties and responsibilities is important to the Lord. Truly, in God, there is no separation between Spiritual and Natural. Romans 12:1 tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual worship. Our bodies were made to work. We are daily surrounded by people who are in need, and live and work in places that need our bodies to be about the business of the day. It is our spiritual worship to present our bodies to the Lord in doing these tasks. It is also our spiritual worship to present our bodies to God in setting aside time daily to be alone with Him. Both are required. Both are Spiritual.
Take the Proverbs 31 woman, The Woman Who Fears the Lord, for example:
An excellent wife who can find?She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
This is one busy woman! Far busier than most of us, I would imagine. We don't have to tend to fields, or weave cloth and make clothing, or manage a staff of servants or take our wares to market...on top of cooking and cleaning; caring for and teaching children. And this very busy, very duty-FULL woman is called "excellent", "a woman who fears the Lord", "greatly praised", and "blessed" while Martha is scolded publically and for all time. So again I ask...why?
I think Jesus' response to her holds the key to the real point of contention. "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Notice He said "You are anxious and troubled about many things." In that moment, their time together was supposed to be about the what the Lord was teaching, yet Martha was anxious and troubled about other things...about the readiness of the house, the meal, perhaps available seating for their guests (poor Mary was sitting on the floor, if you remember). In His rebuke, the Lord spoke of her heart's attitude, indicating to me that her busyness was not about serving and honoring Him, but something else. What also seems glaringly obvious to me is this: had she been prepared before her guests arrived, she could have done the one thing necessary once the Lord was there.
How many times has this happened to you: You've been busy with other things, you've perhaps been tired or downright lazy and you get to the end of the week and things have piled up and you miss church to catch up? Or you have an event on the weekend and procrastinate all week and wind up spending most of the fellowship time finishing the cooking or tracking down plates or apologizing for certain things being in disarray? Could this be what led up to Martha being "anxious and troubled"? Could she have forsaken her duty and tried to make up for it (perhaps overcompensating in her preparation) at the expense of fellowship with the Lord...dishonoring Him on two counts?
The Proverbs 31 woman was a busy woman, but it seems to me that her faithfulness to God both in her quiet time and her duty is what allowed her to be so busy and still be held up as an example. Her private devotion to the Lord was the foundation upon which her home was built and it was also lived out in faithfully and dutifully serving her husband and family. There was no shirking of one to accomplish the other. She was "Mary" both in the quiet times which are not outlined in this passage AND in the activities that are. She was Mary in her stillness and in her busyness, because her heart was set on worshipping and honoring the Lord.