The Priorities of Mary and Martha

By Betty Warnock

“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). No doubt these words of commendation to Mary were thrilling to her heart, but they probably brought a sting of remorse to Martha’s ears.

This declaration by Jesus came at the close of a conversation that occurred as he visited his dear friends, Mary and Martha who shared their home with their brother, Lazarus, at Bethany. We know that Jesus was a frequent visitor and counted these three among his closest friends.

In this article we will notice how Jesus taught a lesson on choosing priorities as he visited with these two sisters.

Contrast of Sisters

As the events of the visit unfold, we see the sisters contrasted in these ways. First of all, we see Mary at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39). This posture which she assumes shows a respect for her Lord and her teacher. We see in her an intense desire and hunger for spiritual words and she certainly knew that this teacher presented before her a feast, a blessed opportunity that she could not ignore. At this time, she seemed oblivious to other activities around her and concentrated on the words that Jesus was speaking.

However, we see Martha, who certainly loved the Lord also, “cumbered” or burdened with the preparations that she felt a good hostess should make. There were two banquets being offered in Bethany that day. Mary was enjoying the Bread of Life (John 6:51) which would never be taken from her and Martha was preparing a physical banquet, thereby missing the spiritual feast.

Martha speaks almost as a rebuke and entreats the Lord to have Mary come and help her. But Jesus chides, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). He does not rebuke her for being a good hostess and for being hospitable, but for the fact that she had allowed these cares to overshadow the opportunities to enrich her own spiritual life. In other words she had gotten her priorities confused.

Where Are Our Priorities?

It is so easy in today’s society to let our priorities get out of order and to let the “good part” to which Jesus referred, become obscured. It is difficult not to allow the cares of the world become the weeds that choke out the beautiful flowers in our garden of life.

Sometimes there seems to be so many cares (everyday household tasks, care of our families, etc.), that there is but a little time left for nourishing our souls on the word of God. It is so important that women not only supply the physical needs of their families (if they are married) but also nourish the spiritual needs of ourselves and those for whom we care. Single women who are seeking and molding careers need to remember their Lord and not become so intent on becoming successful that they forget spiritual responsibilities.

We see women today who have little time for prayer, for Bible study, much less for teaching a class, for taking a meal to a family, for washing the dishes or clothes for a sick mother, for attending gospel meetings, for preparing a meal for the visiting preacher, or for a needed visit to the nursing home.

Has Materialism Possessed Us?

Many are so caught up in materialism that they concentrate all their efforts on furnishing an expensive and elaborate house with the latest “House Beautiful” designs that they have little concern and time for God’s house, the church. Others are forever seeking designer clothes with the proper labels and they spend so much on clothes and jewelry for the outward man while failing to adorn the inward man. We need to take to heart I Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. kingdom first in everything we do (Matt. 6:19-34).

We have so much and are so spoiled with all the luxuries and conveniences, that we really do not appreciate what we have, nor what it means to sacrifice. Often we hear preacher’s wives complain because their husbands are away holding meetings and preaching the gospel. Shame! Wives of pioneer preachers tended the farms, reared the children and sacrificed much because they believed that preaching the gospel was the most important work in the world. They chose the “good part.”

In many of today’s congregations it is almost impossible to have a ladies’ Bible class during the week because so many of the woman work outside the home. Sometimes it is proper, yea, even necessary for a woman to work outside the home, but it is sad when such is not necessary and husbands are neglected, little children are left with babysitters when they need their mothers and the house is left in disarray. All of this is done for the luxuries and excesses of life.

By our materialistic attitude and example we teach our children that money, property, tangible things, regardless of what we say to the contrary, make the world go around. Francis D. Breisch wrote, “You name it and we have it -split-level houses, automobiles, televisions, washers, dryers, dishwashers, boats, motorcycles, etc., etc., etc. Hordes of children grow up in three and four-bedroom homes, with 2V2 baths, three telephones, two televisions (at least one a color set), two or three cars, and a confidence that they will not only graduate from high school but go on to college and even get an advanced degree.

Ahead of them lie executive positions in the everexpanding economy, more money than their parents had, bigger homes, more cars, and so on ad nauseum” (Facing Today’s Problems, p. 125). Yes, materialism is causing many to lose sight of the “good part, which shall not be taken away.”

Pressures All Around Us

Women today who are Christians, whether we be single, wives, mothers, young, middleage, or elderly, can make application in our lives as we read the short story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha.

It seems that now, more than at any other time, we are pressured from all sides to mold our lives, not according to the word of God, but according to the Madison Avenue “Bible.” We fall prey to the propaganda of the ERA, we become afflicted with the disease of materialism and we become the target of constant bombardment of the fashion world. We are urged to never look older than twenty-five and often we are proded to wear that which is unbecoming, immodest and unpleasing to God, if we want to be in style. “Calvin Klein” and “Izod” logos become our symbols of prestige. May we not be intimidated, but have the courage and faith to do that which is right, putting Christ and His kingdom first in everything we do (Matt. 6:19-34).

Some Worthy Observations

Albert Barnes wrote in summary of this narrative the following: “(1) That the cares of this life are dangerous, even when they seem to be most lawful and commendable. Nothing of a worldly nature could have been more proper than to provide for the Lord Jesus and supply His wants. Yet even for this, because it too much engrossed her mind, the Lord Jesus gently reproved Martha. (2) It is of more importance to attend to the instructions of the Lord Jesus than to be engaged in the affairs of the world. The one will abide for ever; the other will be but for a little time. (3) There are times when it is proper to suspend worldly employments, and to attend to the affairs of the soul. (4) If attention to religion be omitted at the proper time, it will always be omitted. (5) Piety is the chief thing needed. Other things will perish. We shall soon die. All that we can gain we must leave. But the soul will live. There is a judgment-seat; there is a heaven; there is a hell; and all that is needful to prepare us to die, and to make us happy for ever, is to be a friend of Jesus, and to listen to His teaching. (6) Piety is the chief ornament in a female. It sweetens every other virtue; adorns every other grace; gives new loveliness to the tenderness, mildness, and grace of the female character. Nothing is more lovely than a female sitting at the feet of the meek and lowly Jesus, like Mary; nothing more unlovely than entire absorption in the affairs of the world, like Martha” (Barnes on the New Testament, Luke-John, pp. 71-72). These things deserve our utmost consideration.

In conclusion, as we strive to make heaven our home, be sure that we choose the one thing that is needful, the word of God, and set our affections on things above and not on things on the earth (Col. 3:2).

May the Lord help us to be more like Mary.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 17, pp. 529-530
September 1, 1983