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Martha, Martha: In Which the Author Fails to Get the Point

By Eric M. Pazdziora

The joke’s on me.

I was thinking and praying about my topic for this week, and one story just wouldn’t get out of my head—Mary and Martha. We all know it, it’s really simple, but sometimes it does us a world of good to go back to the basics.

So I started my usual round of studying, reading, praying, trying to find the shape of the idea, maybe a profound insight, a unique twist, something unexpected, something new. The weekend went by, and I still had only a handful of scattered notes and observations. Nothing was coming together.

Writers don’t like that, or at least I don’t. I get a bit frazzled and start to fidget, especially when I know there are a lot of people waiting for me to meet a deadline. My other articles so far have all been enjoyable to write, but this one was just not working. Yet I couldn’t get away from the topic. I was starting to get worried and upset, wondering if I would have to work harder than usual to make a good post that would really serve you.

And then all of a sudden it hit me. I was getting distracted and worried by all the work and service I had to do…

…while trying to write an article on Mary and Martha.

Yeah, sometimes it takes me a while.

Now, as Chesterton said, I’m the fool of this story, thank you very much, and I’ll have no one coming to topple me from the jester’s throne. But really, my own thick-headedness makes the point (better than any illustration I could have thought up) of just how easy it is at any moment for any one of us to get a case of Martha’s Disease.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NASB).

Martha just wanted to serve—to serve Jesus, in fact. Serving is a good thing; serving Jesus is an even better thing. But that was the problem. It’s not the best thing. Strictly speaking, it’s not even a necessary thing. Only one thing is needed.

Mary found it. She found it at Jesus’ feet, just sitting, listening, and being. And even though someone close to her berated her for it with the best of intentions, nothing could take it away. Not then, not ever.

It would be a mistake to say “We need to be more like Mary.” The whole point of what Mary was like is letting go of sentences that begin “We need to.”

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

So, nothing fancy today. You don’t need me to tell you what you already know; you can just stop and remember it again. Let’s go back to the story we all know and spend some time listening to what Jesus has to say. Read it slowly and reflect and bask in it. Spend some time at Jesus’ feet. That’s all.

As Jesus and His disciples were going along, Jesus came to a village where there was a woman named Martha. She welcomed Him as a guest.

She had a sister named Mary, who came and sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He said.

But Martha was distracted, pulled this way and that with all her serving.

She came up to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving alone? So tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered. “You’re worrying and bothering about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away.”

—Luke 10:38–42, paraphrased EP.

(Recommended hymn with that: Jesus, I Am Resting.)

Eric M. Pazdziora wishes he could practice what he preaches as much as he practices the piano. He writes music and words in Chicago with his wife Carrie, who guessed where this article was going before he got there. A forthcoming CD of his settings of hymns on grace, New Creation, can be found along with more writing at ericpazdziora.com.


  1. Thanks so much for the reminder that serving isn't the most important thing. Jesus is.

  2. I'll share a little something about this Martha. I intend on blogging about it more fully, but just to encourage the Martha's out there....I'm one of them, lol.

    "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus."

    John 11:5

    I know that's a teeny tiny verse, but so needful for me in my Martha moments. So needful, while I'm careful about this, careful about that to realize Jesus loves Martha. Jesus loves me, yes, even when I'm serving carefully and not gazing at Him and choosing that better part as Mary did.

    It's a lifelong journey of mine, learning but being loved by Jesus as a Martha altogether. For many years....I was waiting to get to be a Mary so I could have Jesus' approval.

    This one little verse has disspelled my human tendency to keep trying to serve Jesus to be able to "be worthy enough" to gaze at Him. Oh wow, Jesus loves me in all places. I worship Him.

    Thank you, Eric, for writing something to help me remember today. I needed to remember. Your way with words are so encouraging and I appreciate it.

  3. It would be a mistake to say “We need to be more like Mary.” The whole point of what Mary was like is letting go of sentences that begin “We need to.”

    I love this!!

  4. People wrapped up in religion don't understand Mary. They say.."yeah but...work needs to be done" they just don't get it. Your article knocks the religion right out of us. Home run hit!

  5. One of my all time favorite hymns, Eric. Thanks.

  6. i like the contrast of mary was focused & listening intently to jesus & mary was distracted and worried. to me it's an illustration that jesus is LIFE and to be looking upon him as mary was and not distracted is the way to live this christian life.

  7. Like Cara, I've prayed for years that God would "make me a Mary" when I'm wired like a Martha, in the sense of wanting to work hard, even - dare I say it - even thriving on it. But I rest in the knowledge that God has gifted me this way, that when I'm walking in HIS perfect strength, I will "choose the better way," no matter what my personality type or gift-mix might be.

    Another interesting point is that immediately before the Mary and Martha episode was Jesus' lesson to the masses which included the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If Martha had heard that story, wouldn't she have been MORE inclined to work hard in the kitchen, to serve Jesus a good meal?! Too bad her heart wasn't right, maybe even thinking to herself, "I can look as good as that Good Samaritan. Watch me work!"

    Thanks for a great post. And as always, thanks Hilary for the safe place.


  8. Karen-- I'm reminded of a question C. S. Lewis once asked someone: "If you don't want God, why are you so anxious to want to want Him?" You may already be more of a "Mary" than you realize! :smile:

    Your Good Samaritan point is great too; I found it interesting that that parable came about when someone asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" But, as Mary showed us, it's not about doing. (Luke's order of stories is always significant.)

    thatmom-- Coincidentally, I added it to the lineup for worship at my church this Sunday. :smile:

    Cara-- Yes, sometimes we're harder on Martha than she deserves. In John 11:27 she actually has a pre-resurrection declaration of faith in Christ that's every bit as strong as Peter's more famous one. The lesson is that even faithful people Jesus loves can miss the point now and then, which is encouraging.

    Lollypop, Sisterlisa, Grace, Youngmom-- Excellent comments and exactly right! I knew people here would have some good insights into this story. Thanks!

  9. I loved this article, Eric. Even the slightly self-deprecating humor. :-)

    As a lifelong "martha trying to be mary" this is especially poignant:

    It would be a mistake to say “We need to be more like Mary.” The whole point of what Mary was like is letting go of sentences that begin “We need to.”

  10. I love the phrase, "we need to."


    It's all about Jesus. Not me.

  11. This made me look back: when I was young with many little children around my feet, I had too many "Mary's" who wanted to "sit at Jesus feet" and watch my babies sit in poop. I had to choice but to serve while I had 4 babies in diapers...
    I wish the 'Marys' would have gotten up, to lend a hand. Oh, they thought they were when they were "praying" for me, and quoting scripture to me about submitting to my husband and having more babies.
    As I age, I have learned that balance and "the over all picture" is so important before we pull out once single scenario and use it to teach ;)
    Both sides. SO Important.

  12. Soni-- What those people were doing was not like Mary at all. Mary was looking to Jesus and listening; they were looking at you and preaching. The analogy here would be Martha sitting at Jesus' feet and not listening to Him because she was telling Mary to do her work for her! :-D


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