Luke 10:38-42 Mary and Martha (The Church and Stillness)

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary and Martha (The Church and Stillness)

My wife had a difficult childhood because her mother was disabled.  Her mother would invite people around to the house, but she would get increasingly anxious that the house was not in order, that the food wasn’t ready, and that the world was about to end.  My wife, as a young child, then stepped up and took charge.  Her mother’s anxiety and guilt fueled her performance and she hosted in the place of her mother.  So, when we married Kelli would invite people around and then generate all the guilt and anxiety that her mother couldn’t supply.  She would start unloading it on me.  I would try and say, “They are not coming around to see the house, but to see us.”  But trying to reason with the situation only seemed to exasperate it.  I became an opponent working against the process.  y the time friends or family would arrive, the house would look wonderful but by then I had succumbed to my own tension and anxieties.

I believe that we host much better now.  Of course, we do what we can, but people have become much more important for both of us than performance.  Also it is humbling to have a couple of children who want to help by pulling down a bowl of sugar, or spreading marbles around the living room for everyone to play with.

Martha is not unusual.  She desires so much to throw open her house.  She has a gift of hospitality, but it seems tainted by self-focus.  She believes that her agenda is right and she has some contempt brewing for her lazy, dreamy sister.  The text doesn’t say exactly that, but this scenario is so common to the human condition, I don’t think it is a huge leap of logic to get there.  The type-A, controlling sister whose worth is in her performance then tries to control her deficient sister.  That’s when Jesus delivers the shocker, “Actually your sister Mary’s choice is better.”  Mary values relationship above performance.  She values contemplation before action.  Mary is less pragmatic and efficient.  Mary’s values are better.

Hospitality is a gift that prepares a safe place, a place that is welcoming, for a person.  It then engages with that person in an appropriate way.  It doesn’t focus on the tasks, the entertainment, or an agenda.  It is fluid and responsive and spirit ministers to spirit.  No-one developed a soul mate by being busy around them.  

How do you value your worth and your friendships?  Is it by performance or is it by soul-to-soul connection?  The primary place of hospitality is in an attitude of prayer.  In that posture one welcomes Jesus and is attentive to him at the same time as speaking from an open and vulnerable heart. Churches have often cultivated busy places of fear and suspicion.  However, how would your church be different if it was run by Mary rather than Martha?  Mary chooses what is better.


There are those who would say that it is mystical to sit at your feet and listen to you.  There are those who say that it is wrong to sit in silence before you.  I am confused why people would be afraid of sitting quietly like Mary, and why they choose the way of Martha.  They say that Be Still and Know that I am God is misquoted, but what about “It is good to sit before the Lord in silence… (Lam. 3)”.  Why are my Protestant Evangelical friends so busy, so tired, and so empty?  Why, when they have the truth of scripture, and when they have the word of God, do they talk, talk, talk without cultivating a heart that listens?  I am afraid of the Marthas in this world who police the Marys.  Defend the Marys as you did in Martha’s home.


  1. What does Martha do well?
  2. What does Mary do well?
  3. Why does Jesus rebuke Martha?
  4. What is the essence of godly hospitality?
  5. Why are some Evangelicals opposed to stillness?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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