Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)
To put this story into context, the “they” at the beginning is Jesus, his twelve apostles, plus 72 disciples who have just returned from traveling abroad and preaching. This group of at least 85 have been invited into the home of sisters Mary and Martha. Immediately, Martha gets to work, as I think a majority of us would do.
Let me say something here, there is nothing wrong with WHAT Martha is trying to do, only HOW she is going about it. The bible is full of calls to serve others; Jesus Himself praised the service of others (see John 6). So why this time didn’t he praise Martha for her willingness to serve?
There are two key words in these verses, “distracted” and “anxious”. Martha is so “distracted” with her busyness that she doesn’t have time to enjoy the presence of the Lord in her home. She has made her “to do list” her focus, rather than being focused on Jesus. She’s focused on feeding the crowd, while Mary is focused on feeding her spirit. This is frustrating to Martha, she feels that she is doing something helpful and noble, while her sister is over there lazily lounging around doing “nothing”. She eventually gets so frazzled that she asks Jesus to make Mary help her.
Of course this crowd in their home is probably tired and hungry, and Martha sees a need and wants to feed them. However, Mary realizes that the Bread of Life, the Living Waters, is more satisfying to her soul than anything she could offer the Savior and his group. She has chosen the “good portion”.
So back to my question…why didn’t Jesus praise Martha’s efforts? Because Jesus knows our hearts, He knows our thoughts. He knew that Martha had made herself “anxious” and “troubled” unnecessarily. He could see that her joy wasn’t in serving but in gaining approval. She was using her service to validate her self-worth and her righteousness. Knowing this, Jesus didn’t get angry at her or tell her to quit working, He lovingly pointed out that she had another choice, the one that her sister had already made.
If you are currently caught up in what you think you “have to do” or “should do” to prove yourself to God, please reconsider your actions. Ask God in prayer if what you are doing is what He wants you to be doing. Maybe you are distracting yourself and making yourself anxious doing things that aren’t necessary. Any time you are faced with an opportunity to serve, ask yourself if you would be doing it simply because you love to serve, or because you are looking for approval from God or from other people.
There is NOTHING we can do to prove ourselves to God. As it says in Isaiah 64:6 (KJV), “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. There is no checklist God asked us to complete for Him. All Jesus asks for in return for redeeming us is for us to love Him and seek after Him. My personal goal is to be constantly seeking after God. I don’t really care anymore what anyone else thinks of what I do or don’t do, only what God thinks of me. It is very freeing to let God be your guide and do what you know He wants you to do, rather than trying to impress God by doing what you assume He might want you to do. One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for awhile is I would’ve only been doing it because I felt I was “supposed to” and I felt guilty I hadn’t written. My writing has been sporadic because I wait for the times when I feel God is putting the desire to write and the message I should write about in my mind.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV)