The Expository Files.

Martha's Discovery Of The One Necessary Thing

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus had three friends who lived in Bethany. He would occasionally stay in their home when He was in Judea. Lazarus, Mary and Martha were brother and sisters. They lived together in the same house which probably was owned by Martha. At least, Luke records that it was Martha who welcomed the Lord into her house (LUKE 10:38). Bethany was located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives on the road linking Jerusalem to Jericho. It was just over a mile and a half from Jerusalem, or about a half hour's walk. It would have been a very convenient place for Jesus and His fellow Galileans to stay when visiting Jerusalem for a feast day or on some other occasion. Also, its proximity to the garden of Gethsemane should be noted. Though we only have the record of the Lord's final visit to Gethsemane for prayer and His subsequent arrest there, we know that it was a favorite place of His while in the Jerusalem area. Luke records that it was His custom to go to that particular place (LUKE 22:39,40).

There are three passages of Scripture which mention Martha. They are LUKE 10:38-42 when Jesus taught in her home while she busied herself preparing food for her guests; JOHN 11:1-44 when Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from the dead and JOHN 12:2 when Jesus visited her home just six days before His crucifixion. We find her busy again preparing food while her sister Mary anoints Jesus' feet with costly perfume.

"And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted by all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." (LUKE 10:39,40). Both Mary and Martha are disciples of Jesus. These two women deal with Jesus' visit in two different ways. It is certainly important to observe something just now: it was not an either/or proposition for them or for us. We do not have to choose between worshiping the Lord like Mary or serving the Lord like Martha. Neither does there need to be such a conflict between our physical or secular needs and our spiritual growth. Sadly, that is exactly what many believers end up with.

A careful reading of the context shows us that Mary had been in the kitchen with Martha until Jesus started teaching. Note Martha said that her sister had left her alone to do all the serving.

But Jesus knows that neither Mary nor Martha can live by bread alone (MATTHEW 4:4). It was now time to digest some spiritual bread and feed the soul. Martha was being distracted from her soul's needs by other things. The other things in this case are not bad things. Sometimes, even good things can fill up our lives to the point where we neglect our souls. God has not blessed us with our families, friends, jobs, abilities and other gifts to give us an excuse to abandon a close walk with Him. Without Him we can do nothing (JOHN 15:5).

"But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things." (LUKE 10:41). Anxiety is a killer. Many of the physical and mental ills of our present day are stress related. And Martha is certainly a stressed out lady at this point in time. Her exasperation can be seen in the way she forms her question, "Lord, do You not care...?" I can well imagine her "stewing" for a time in the kitchen (where else would you stew?) before being emboldened to charge into the room in such a way. And certainly the Lord does care, but not nearly as much about the problem as Martha sees it as He does about the real problem of which Martha is unaware. The Lord is more concerned about Martha's state of mind and priorities than He is about being served a feast later on.

Where faith grows, anxiety lessens. This is one of the chief lessons Jesus taught earlier in His ministry during what we call the sermon on the mount; "Do not be  anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?'... But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (MATTHEW 6:31-33). Having the correct set of priorities (putting His kingdom first) will greatly reduce your chance of heart attack.

"...but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her." (LUKE 10:42). The good part which Mary had chosen was to listen to the Lord's teaching. In the final scheme of things, the things Jesus said that day were of much more importance than what He ate. Today, if we are too busy to commune with the Lord; to pray and study His word; to meditate on life's purpose and to enjoy a peaceful, private time with Him, then there is something horribly wrong with our practice. If our walk of faith consists mainly of going to church and then on with life's busy day then we are not receiving of the goodness that the Lord has planned for us. And if we are so hassled by  the routines of daily existence that we find ourselves  lashing out at those we love as Martha did on that occasion, then isn't that a good indication that something  needs fixed?

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if He dies." (JOHN 11:25). After Lazarus had died, and as Jesus  approached Bethany, it was Martha who ran to meet Jesus while Mary remained at the house. Her first words seem to mingle faith and complaint; "Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died. " (JOHN 11:21). While one does not want to condone the complaint, it must be understood that many of the faithful have complained about one thing or another. Abraham, Job, Moses, David and Jeremiah to name a few. God seems to have more patience with this than He does with faithless grumbling and foolish accusations such as those made by the Israelites in the wilderness.

Martha's faith in Jesus never wavered. When Jesus asks her about her belief in Him, she sums up her faith this way; "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He that comes into the world." (JOHN 11:27).

Jesus had earlier said only one thing is really necessary. I believe He was referring to faith. Faith comes by hearing His word (ROMANS 10:17). Faith overcomes the world (I JOHN 5:4). Without faith it is impossible to please God (HEBREW 11:6). We must keep the faith to receive the crown of righteousness at life's end (II TIMOTHY 4:7,8). For that reason, the gospel is taught that men and women might be led to the obedience of faith (ROMANS 16:26).

Jesus approached the tomb where Martha's brother's body lay. Four days before he had died. But the One with the keys to death and Hades was about to call Lazarus back to this realm. Martha would soon be reunited with her brother.

"So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him." (JOHN 12:2). Here we find Martha serving again. This time the purpose of the gathering is to have supper. The end of Jesus' ministry is approaching, and it seems as if both Mary and Martha are far more aware of the fact than even the apostles. Mary anoints Jesus' feet with costly perfume and weeps openly. Martha does the thing she evidently knew the best. She fixes our Lord a dinner for perhaps her last time. No complaint this time. The Lord is about to go to the place from which He had called Lazarus. But remember who we are talking about. It is Jesus, whom Martha had identified as the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus had identified Himself as the resurrection and the life. He had proven it by raising her brother from the dead. He would prove it again on the third day following His own death. He would live again!

 By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 1.3; March, 1994