TWO KINDS OF DISCIPLESHIP: A REFLECTION ON MARY AND MARTHA IN LUKE 10:38–42 by Nick Davis for Core Christianity
At times it is good for us to reflect on how we are going to go about walking the path before us. Such decisions are plentiful in our lives. When our son was born, there were thoughts about “the kind of parents” we purposed to be. Sometimes the way forward provides numerous options. As my dad likes to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” However, we also know that sometimes life, including the Christian life, provides us a fork in the road.
In Luke 10:38–42, we see an almost parabolic course taken by two sisters in their relationship with Jesus. In this familiar passage, Martha and Mary find themselves with Jesus as their guest. It is worth asking what in the world this passage has to do with the broader ministry of Jesus, and—frankly—what does it have to do with us? We know the Scriptures recount this with something much more in mind than to highlight the personality differences of these two sisters. I believe the purpose of this passage is to highlight two very different ways of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This contrast we see in the examples of Martha and Mary.
The Way of Martha
“Martha welcomed him into her house.” (v. 38) No doubt Martha was full of hospitable zeal. It’s not every day you have the Messiah-King as your guest of honor, and this pious Jewish woman only hoped to be a worthy host. You probably have a Martha in your life. Maybe you are her. She (or he) is hospitable, hard-working, laser-focused on what needs to get done, and makes a mean turkey at Thanksgiving.
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Martha. She has gotten a bad rap over the years. In John’s Gospel, after all, we are reminded that “Jesus loved Martha” (Jn 11:5). Furthermore, in the same account she displays a great deal of faith and hope in the midst of her brother Lazarus’ death (see Jn 11:22-27).
We need these folks, the Martha-types in the church. No one can argue that they know how to get things done. The problem is that such folks often feel this pressure and are overtly aware of what they perceive as everyone else’s lack of effort. We can picture Martha’s frenzied efforts when verse 40 states, “But Martha was distracted with much serving.”
This is what we see happening in verse 40 when “she went up to [Jesus] and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’” We can picture Martha’s frustration, contempt, and anxiety, and many of us identify with her. We feel the weight of what needs to get done and, indeed, there is always more to do!