27 September 2022

As part of our digital series, Women Supporting Women, we share a reflection on two 'supporting women' of the Bible, Mary and Martha. This devotion was originally written for a printed series celebrating 100 years of Women's Ministries in the Finland and Estonia Territory. As you read, take time to consider the way you learn from those around you and also how you may influence others as they seek Jesus.

‘As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”’ (Luke 10:38-40)

We read of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who lived in the town of Bethany. Both were known friends to Jesus and, when he and his disciples arrived at their home, Martha graciously welcomed them inside and got to work. Much to her dismay, her sister, Mary, had other ideas! Mary left Martha to the domestic chores and settled down to listen to Jesus’ teaching.

In our relationships with Jesus, some of us are more like Mary, while others resemble Martha. It’s likely we have qualities of both within us. Many Salvationists will identify with Martha in this story. It is simply not in our DNA to be passive believers – we have a duty, a responsibility, a mission! At times, we may be inclined to let our acts of service define us and distract us from what really matters.

On a practical level, without adequate rest we become exhausted. If we find ourselves offering a service with no space for reflection and refreshment, we will grow disinterested and disillusioned with the mission in which we are engaged. Just as happened to Martha in this account, our humanness eventually gives up and we take our frustrations out on those around us.

‘“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”’ (Luke 10:41-42)

Though irritating for her hard-working sister, Mary modelled a right relationship with Jesus. She greeted him with profound spirituality, defying social expectations of the time to spend precious time under his teaching. In turn, Jesus ignored the traditional gender roles and welcomed Mary’s willingness to learn, encouraging her sister to join them.

In Luke 10, Jesus does not say that Martha’s service is not important; there is always work to be done, and we know that the labourers are few! Serving others is a healthy and significant response to following the ways of Jesus, but it is not service itself that we worship. Rather than admonish Martha and her servant heart, Jesus gently corrects her ‘worried and upset’ nature and reminds her of the opportunity, and the better choice, found in resting at his feet.

This story of Mary and Martha’s encounter with Jesus contains rich teaching around our priorities and our attitudes as Christians. These lessons remind us that it is possible to lead God-honouring lives that value rest and service in equal measure. Let us, as a Salvation Army and as individuals, resist the temptation to be so wrapped up in what there is to do that we forget where we need to be: at the feet of Jesus.

Personal reflections:

  • Who do I associate with most - Mary or Martha?
  • Do I have my priorities in order? 
  • How often do I stop my work and my worry to intentionally spend time with Jesus?
  • Where is my devotion? Am I dedicated to Christ and his word, or am I more concerned with doing good deeds?
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