Lately I have been thinking about one of my favorite scripture stories. It is the story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42. It’s really only a few verses but it’s a story that teaches much. The story starts with Martha receiving Christ into her home. She is busy getting food and her home ready to receive such a beloved guest. Her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of the Savior. It’s interesting to read,”Mary, which also sat at Jesus feet,” because it implies that Martha often is found there too. But this day, each is showing love in her own, but different way. Martha is fussing about making sure everything is perfect and Mary is spending time with Christ.
Then Martha asks Christ to intervene. She is unhappy that she is doing all the work while Mary gets to relax and just enjoy visiting, and she wants Christ to do something about it. Christ’s answer to her reflects several things. He recognizes Martha’s hard work and careful manner and thus He accepts her devoted service to Him. He also tells her that how Mary is serving Him is good: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary’s devotion and display of love are clearly accepted by Christ.
For years it seemed to me that Christ was saying Mary’s way of showing love was better. I read it as Mary had chosen the better part, better than Martha. Then one day I noticed it said she had chosen the good part, not the better part. It didn’t say that Mary’s way was better. There was no comparison happening. Both ways were acceptable. Both ways were good. They were just different.
The problem was when Martha wanted Christ to tell Mary to help her. It was as if she was saying her way was better, she was judging. She didn’t recognize Mary’s efforts at demonstrating her love for Christ. Another problem was that she didn’t address Mary directly. So, not only was she judging, she also wasn’t taking responsibility for the herself or the situation. She was wanting someone else to solve the problem when she was quite capable of doing it. There are so many subtle elements to this story, and so many things I relate to.
I think one of the reasons I like this story is because I am sometimes Martha and sometimes Mary. When I’m Martha I’m often fussing around trying to make sure everything is perfect, usually with good intentions. I am showing my love through my food and service. But sometimes I’m also thinking my way of doing something is better. Unfortunately, sometimes I judge others and their ways as inferior. It’s subtle and I don’t always recognize that’s what I’m doing, but it is what I am doing when I criticize someone else’s efforts, even if it’s just in my thoughts.
I can be Martha when I think my way of studying the scriptures is better, or how I discipline my children, or how I fulfill my calling. Any time I think my way of doing something is better than someone else I am being Martha. Sometimes I don’t want to deal with problems and I hope someone will fix things for me even though I’m quite capable of it. Just wave a magic wand so I can have my way.
In some ways I’m not painting a very pretty picture of Martha, which would not be accurate. This is only one side of her and the scriptures show her to be a faithful disciple. She was devoted to Christ, a woman of great faith. Martha wasn’t perfect but followed her Savior with complete trust. She was a worker and served others, and we need people like that. Where would we be without the doers of the world?
Sometimes though, I am also Mary, and my priorities are people I love. I concentrate on what’s important and try to keep it simple. My focus is on the Savior and I make Him my priority. I try harder to live with purpose and intention. But dinner does need to be fixed, and laundry done and children need to be tended. People need to show up at their jobs and lawns need to be mowed. As nice as it might be, I cannot spend all of my time studying the scriptures or reading conference talks.
Perhaps I am painting another inaccurate picture. The scriptures show Mary to be just as devoted to her Savior as Martha was, and undoubtedly she was a worker too. It seems Martha was used to Mary working alongside her in the kitchen and was upset when she wasn’t helping. Mary’s way of showing love and devotion was just different from Martha’s, each good and acceptable.
Ideally I would be a little bit of Martha and a little bit of Mary, or maybe Martha in some circumstances and Mary in others. Perhaps that is one of the lessons from this story. For me to serve and show love in my way and also let others do the same without judging. To recognize that Christ doesn’t compare me with anyone else. For me to also be just as devoted to my Savior as these two women were.
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