“A certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” Luke 10:38-39
Dear People Who Keep Company with God,
The story of Martha and Mary is often understood to be about priorities. We’re told that, like Martha, we shouldn’t be distracted by focusing on tasks but instead should be like Mary, who sat with Jesus. While this is true, there is more to the story. We can also see it as two sisters in the same family with different purposes and callings. By God’s design, the qualities of Martha and Mary are built into us. Both are essential to our spiritual development and growth and must be fully cultivated. Martha represents our activities, our ministries, and the things we do. Mary represents our devotional life, worship, prayers, and seeking the Lord Himself. Mary represents our heart – Martha, our hands.
For those who have a tendency towards devotion, we must be careful that all we receive at the feet of Jesus must also find its rightful place in the daily activities of our lives, where it becomes a practical reality. Otherwise, we will become like a stagnant pool of water. No one desires to drink from standing water. We must never become detached from the world we live in, even in the most significant encounters of revelation and the supernatural. The Gospels tell us Jesus would go up on a mountain, which speaks of revelation and devotion to the Father. But He always came down to serve in the valley of humanity. So must we if we are to fulfill our purpose and calling[.
While Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha protested that her sister was not helping to prepare the meal. Jesus doesn’t question or admonish Martha for serving. It is that she is “worried and upset about many things.” Her activity is “distracted” (Luke 10:40) and causes her anxiety and frustration while serving, a behavior that Jesus contrasts with “the one thing that is needed” in that moment, which is Mary’s devotion. Martha’s ministry to Jesus distracted her from Him because the work became her focus.
If you have a strong pull toward serving and doing, you need to know that you will be limited in revelations from the Lord while engaging in those activities. We must not neglect our Mary heart that yearns to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to stop serving, but He does challenge her to refocus her attention on Him as she serves. Out of that will come much more fruitful service. Being and doing have their proper place and time in which to function. If we pay attention to the Holy Spirit, we will know when it is time for the heart of Mary and when it is time for the hands of Martha.
Lazarus was Martha and Mary’s brother. His part in the story serves a crucial function apart from those of his sisters. “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha” (John 11:1). Lazarus represents our old carnal nature. He is sick and dying, and Jesus would not come and heal him. He let him die. Then, Jesus came to Lazarus after he had been dead in the tomb for four days. He was beyond help. Jesus resurrected him and told his friends to free Lazarus from the grave clothes, meaning the old life, including the old ways of devotion and service (John 11). If we are truly going to have the heart of Mary and the hands of Martha, it only comes by resurrection power, the power that raised Lazarus – and Jesus – from the grave.
Many Blessings, BW