Neither Martha Nor Mary
By Susan A. Vernick
So often I read the story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel and I regret that I am less like one and more like the other. As I was driving my children to different activities last week—feeling more Martha-like than Mary—I was pondering this story in scripture. In this passage, we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and Mary busy working. Jesus tells us that Mary chose, “the better way” which was not busying herself but rather, sitting and learning at the feet if Jesus. What a beautiful example she is! But one that is challenging, especially since we live in a very “Martha-like” world that rewards jam-packed schedules. As I pondered this scripture, I began to better appreciate the story of both these women and reflected on whom I more identify with, Martha or Mary, or possibly both.
Truthfully, I am always trying to justify how I am more like Mary and less like Martha. But in many ways, I am both. We are told in John 11: 5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus.” Jesus loved them and regardless of their personality types. How that encourages me! Whether I have a Martha mind or Mary’s heart; I am loved. But, my struggle comes with how I live that out, the better of two ways.
Yes, I can be overly task-minded and always have a list playing in my head, but I am also one who also desperately needs that time with Jesus. The balance of these two women’s examples is where the challenge exists for me.
In John 12: 3, we see Mary takes a pound of costly oil and pours it on Jesus feet to bless Him. Her heart was drawn to sit at His feet and also bless Him. And, although I do not have oil to give as a gift to Him like Mary, the gift is simply my time in His word and in prayer. I know this because the Bible tells us that our prayers, the prayers of the saints are as “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8). While I do not have a fragrant oil as Mary did, I do have my prayers, which we know is a sweet-smelling incense.
Yet I am also like Martha. I know that many times in life I am expected to perform, prepare and accomplish. As Christians we are instructed to not to be lazy and to be productive. We see this depicted in Proberbs: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6).
When I am busy accomplishing, that is okay. For me, the danger is being too much like Martha and too little like Mary. As I examine them, I am able to start to reconcile these two women and understand their characteristic and why Jesus specifically tells us about them. I can glean this simple message for my life: that I am not always one or the other, but both. For me, as I’m sure for many women, the challenge is having the correct balance. I do not need to feel convicted when I am being a Martha, not if I have the heart of Mary. And Jesus tells us that Mary has “chosen what is better.”
I yearn to have Mary’s heart and Martha’s ability to accomplish, but more importantly, to accept that there are times and days that I will be more like Martha and more like Mary. I also yearn to be someone who makes time for that quality, intimate time with Jesus and to make that the priority. When the hectic, fast paced life takes hold, I need to be sensitive to my Mary heart that calls me to sit as Jesus’ feet. To let my hair down, as Mary did, and just wait and learn at the feet of Jesus. When I do this I can face the demands of my life with a heart of Mary that has been restored and filled up with the love of Christ and the wisdom in His word.
Perhaps I need to stop worrying about who I better identify with, and concern myself with who I am in my day to day walk with Christ. Someone that honors my commitments, accomplishes and get things done, but not at the expense of being distracted and not spending that quality time every day, with Jesus. Because as Jesus tell us, that is not just the best way, but even more than that, it is “Choosing the Better Way.”