Martha and Mary in the Bible

Have you heard the catchphrase, “Are you a Mary or Martha?” Most women at some point have heard of Mary and Martha in the Bible. We’re going to explore why its good to be both a Martha and a Mary. Yet, Martha made a mistake when presented with a choice. While she had good intentions, Mary had made the right choice. Let’s dive in.

Where is the Story of Mary and Martha in the Bible?

The story of Mary and Martha takes place in 2 parts of the gospels: Luke 10:38-42 and John 12. You’ll discover Luke gives more of an account with an emphasis on Mary and Martha vs John reveals Jesus’ rebuke of Judas Iscariot.  

Luke 10:38-42 KJV

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

John 12 KJV

Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 

2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.

8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

What is the story of Martha and Mary?

Mary and Martha were sisters and had a brother named Lazarus. As revealed in the gospel of Luke 10:38:42, Jesus and his disciples while traveling, came into a village named Bethany. Bethany is a short distance from the Mount of Olives and on the way toward Jericho. A woman named Martha opens up her home to Jesus. Her sister Mary, usually playing hostess like Martha, changed the trajectory of her typical role and instead, sat at the Lord’s feet listening intently to every wise and wonderful Word.

Can you imagine being at the foot of Jesus listening to the walking Word?  Mary chose to stay still and listen to the Word of God in flesh.

Mary and Martha in the Bible Lessons

However, Martha’s priorities were different. She was having none of that and made it known how upset she was that her sister wasn’t helping her serve their guests. She tried to get Jesus to side with her, but he had a surprising answer. 

Jesus rebuked her saying, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We learn several lessons from Jesus in just a few words. Jesus wants us to focus solely on him, not the things of this world, including food and drink. If we aren’t right with the Lord, nothing in our lives will come together for good. 

What is the Relationship between Jesus and Mary and Martha?

The gospels record that Jesus felt comfortable in the home of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. The four were very close friends. In John 11:5, John writes that Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus. 

As we surmise, Jesus, Mary, and Martha had a deep friendship, including Lazarus their brother. In fact, while Jesus was in town during a trip, Mary anointed Christ’s feet with a very expensive ointment and wiped them with her own hair as indicated in John 12:1-8. 

This ointment costs a year’s wage! While we don’t know where or how she obtained this ointment, this is a clear picture and practical way of self-sacrificing obedience to Christ.

Would we dedicate an entire year’s wage to the Lord? While there’s no commandment in scripture telling us to do so other than tithe at 10%, do we use our money for spiritual needs? Or for ministry? Our money is not our own; therefore, we should always be available to donate our good fortune to the cause for Christ.  

Is Mary Magdalene the Same as Mary and Martha?

There are so many Marys in the Bible, that it’s hard to keep track. Yet, Mary Magdalene is not the same as Mary, Martha’s sister. Mary and Martha were from Bethany. Mary Magdalene was from Magdala, a fishing harbor, and an early follower of Jesus. She accompanied him and his disciples on their journeys within Israel. 

Speaking of many Marys, here’s an interesting fact about how many women were at the foot of the cross during the entire time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Four out of the five people at the foot of the cross were women. Three of those women were named Mary: Mary Magdalene, Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. 

What was the difference between Mary and Martha in the Bible?

In Scripture, Mary is in contrast to her sister Martha. While Martha did believe in Jesus as the Christ as indicated in John 11:27, she felt her role was to cook and serve others. While it’s a great and necessary task, she seemed to forget her focus should be on Christ while he was still around. 

Martha served others and was very welcoming to guests She may have been the older sister and the leader in the household. Mary, on the other hand, had a different role to play. She knew Jesus was the Word and realized her time to listen was now.

Mary and Martha in the Bible Lesson

We certainly learn a few key lessons for life in Mary and Martha’s short story. Mary knew what was right at the right time. She understood life’s priorities, yet, Martha lost her priorities, even with good intentions. Here are some key points to take away from Mary’s wise decisions:

  • Mary had her priorities straight
  • Mary organized her life wisely
  • She knew it was time to listen to the Word
  • She understood when to pause her duties

The Characteristics of Mary and Martha

It’s interesting to note the characteristics or differences between of Mary and Martha. Both play an important role as women. We should strive to be more like both of them. In the instance when Jesus was talking, however, Mary made a wise choice.

Martha’s Character Study:

  • Brave and Bold
  • Hospitality Driven
  • Service-Oriented
  •  Friendly
  • Nurturing

Mary’s Character Study:

  • Focused
  • Spiritual-Sensibility
  • Service-Oriented
  • Generous
  • Meek

Martha and Mary in the Bible: Character Study

What can we as busy women take away from our everyday responsibilities? Here are some practical ways in modern times on how we can stay focused on God instead of ourselves.

Be more like Mary:

  • Strive to organize your life around reading His Word like you would food.
  • Block off schedule for quiet time with the Lord like it’s a refreshing drink.
  • Daily chores always wait until the time is spent with the Lord.
  • Serve selflessly and generously when you see a need. 

Be more like Martha:

  • Organize your surroundings for hospitality.
  • Open your doors for guests in your home.
  • Serve others in need.
  • Be friendly to those you meet.

God’s truth and laws will abide forever. While our bodies won’t last forever, our spiritual bodies will. Martha was wonderful for fulfilling physical needs. There is a time and place for those moments.

However, Mary did a good thing. She took a break from the busyness in life and sat down to absorb the Truth. The spiritual knowledge we gather can never be taken away from us and will last forever. So, in other words, we must not allow our physical needs and duties to consume us. Always put your spiritual needs in front of your physical desires.

Mary and Martha in the Bible Commentary

What would you do? Are you a Mary or Martha?

Would you take a front row seat at the foot of Jesus or want to serve him and his guests? Sometimes as women we get distracted with busyiness of serving others. As women, we are naturally nurturing and giving. So, we can get these easily confused. Myself included. As Samuel indicates in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice”. Don’t forget, my busy and blessed friends – the Lord said it is better to obey than sacrifice. So, make sure you understand how to obey your Father, and that’s staying in His Word. 

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