Two Opposite Sisters: Luke 10:38-42

Read the Transcript

As we continue moving through Luke’s gospel, we come to a point where we are introduced to two very different individuals, and from the way Luke’s gospel describes this event, I am fascinated by some of the details we see when looking closely at what happened.

First off, this event focuses on two different women, and nothing in this passage is hinted at these two women being married. One of these women is described as having a home, which strongly implies that she was old enough to have an established life, and this is without Luke’s gospel sharing any evidence of a husband.

While it is possible she had a husband who traveled a great deal and who wasn’t present for this event, it is also just as possible that she was divorced or simply had chosen not to marry. There may be other possible explanations, but all the explanations we can think of are really distractions from the big contrast Luke wants us to see as he describes what happened when Jesus meets these two women.

Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 38, Luke tells us that:

38 As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk.

40 But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. 42 There’s only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

In just five short verses, we are introduced to two very different women, and two very different responses to interacting with Jesus.

It is easy to condemn Martha for worrying and fussing while focusing on the details of being a good hostess. It is also easy for us to sympathize with Martha’s irritation over Mary’s lack of help or Mary’s decision to sit listening to Jesus. However, the biggest theme of this passage can get lost in the details if we are not careful.

It is worth noting that Jesus does not condemn Martha for serving or being a detail-driven hostess. While Jesus does call Martha out for where she has placed her focus, this only happens after Martha had become upset about what Mary was doing when compared with what Martha wanted Mary to be doing. In other words, Martha’s expectation for Mary was upsetting her when Mary wasn’t doing what she expected her to do.

This detail is huge, because it points us to a number of big spiritual truths.

First, we can see that our expectations for ourselves have an impact on our spiritual lives. In Martha’s case, the expectation she had placed on herself was that of being the perfect hostess. She wanted every detail accounted for because she knew how special Jesus was and what a big deal it was that He decided to spend time in her home.

Continuing in Martha’s example, we discover that when we don’t meet our expectations for ourselves, we often try to get others to help us meet our expectations. When Martha began falling behind with the details, she tried to get Mary to come and help her catch back up. While the details Martha was fussing and worrying about might have been very temporary things, the way she frames her frustration and request appeared to be more demanding than the situation might have warranted. I don’t believe Martha was in the wrong for asking for help, but she ultimately was called out for the way she demanded help from her sister.

This leads us to another truth: when others choose not to help us achieve our own expectations for ourselves, we can become bitter and angry towards them when they technically have done nothing wrong except for failing to abide by our expectations for them. In Martha’s example, Mary had done nothing wrong except that she chose not to help Martha achieve her expectations for herself. If Mary had gotten up to help Martha, then at the end of Jesus’ stay with them, Martha may have had the feeling of satisfaction, but Mary would definitely have had the feeling of regret and a missed opportunity.

Ultimately, what Jesus tells Martha is a message to all of us. While we may worry or fuss about a lot of things, it is more important that we connect with Jesus personally, and that we don’t try to dictate how other people connect with God. Every person will connect with God in their own way, and for a relationship with God to be truly personal, it must not depend on or include other individuals standing between us and God.

In Martha’s case, her expectation for herself stood between her and her relationship with Jesus, and when she was falling behind achieving her expectation, she expected Mary to help her rather than letting Mary focus on her own connection with Jesus. Jesus pushed back Martha’s upset remarks because Jesus knows that Mary’s simple choice to sit and listen is infinitely more valuable to her connection with Jesus than all the serving and hosting she could do!

In our own lives, we should intentionally spend time sitting and listening to Jesus to stay connected with Him. While serving Him is always a good thing in the big picture, we must never lose our connection with God while being focused on serving Him. In our lives each day, let’s take time to be with Jesus while we also spend time serving Him!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life. Choose to take time to spend with Him and simply be with Him. We can serve God in our lives, but if we serve God to the point of becoming disconnected from Him, we will ultimately lose the life He has called us to be a part of. We can become disconnected from God even while doing great things for Him, and the longer we are disconnected from God, the farther we can drift from Him.

This is one reason why I regularly challenge you to pray and study the Bible for yourself. Through prayer and Bible study, we can keep our connection with God strong, and when we prayerfully open the Bible to study, we are opening our minds to God’s leading and listening for what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in God’s word. Prayer and Bible study are two of the best ways of staying connected with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 21: When Jesus accepts the invitation to stay with Martha and her sister Mary, discover how these two sisters are very different, and how one sister is challenged by Jesus in a very significant way.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Share Your Response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.