Mary and Martha were expecting someone special. A lot of effort must have gone into preparing to host the guest. This august visitor was not just anyone; it was God in person. Martha must have gone to town: spring-cleaning, acquiring some new items to enhance comfort and preparing an elaborate meal. While Martha dashed between the kitchen and the parlour serving Jesus, Mary did not lift a finger. Rather, she kept Him company. At a point Martha thought her sister’s attitude was insensitive and unfair. She brought the issue to Jesus’ attention. “Lord” She said “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me”. The Lord’s response surprised her: “Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha, like most of us, must have expected the Lord to reprimand Mary. Instead, Jesus commended her, and left us a lesson in divine perspective.  While one went all the way with preparations to entertain Him, the other sat at His feet listening to His word. Jesus pointed out that Martha had many cares but Mary’s one concern was the only needed one.

What was Mary’s choice? “Mary… sat at Jesus feet, and heard his word”.

Unlike Martha, Mary remained in a position of rest (she sat). She stayed close to Jesus, under his influence and authority (at His feet) and fixed her gaze upon Him, taking in what He had to say (listening to His word).

When we spend time listening to God, like Mary did, we learn from Him, we get instructions and save ourselves a lot of fruitless endeavour. Only after we express the Mary in us, (by spending time with God) should we allow the Martha in us go to work. If we neglect the one needful thing and go about doing everything else, we might as well be travelling without a map, building without a plan, fighting without a strategy, offering ‘empty’ good works.

The things Martha pre-occupied herself with were not, in themselves, wrong. Rather, the Lord was addressing the issue of priority. In essence, God was saying that foremost on our life’s agenda should be our spiritual well-being, building up our faith, before serving God. We are saved by faith through grace and not by our good works, lest we should boost.

I believe we all have a bit of Mary and a bit of Martha in us and that every now and then the two dispositions struggle for pre-eminence. The Martha would be that part of us that wants to be busy in service, trying to earn points with God through good works. While the Mary would be the part that prefers to slow down, enter into God’s presence and recharge spiritually. Martha tends to make Mary feel guilty and lazy while Mary may show Martha up as carnal. Although Martha’s gesture was sensible, responsible, thoughtful and sacrificial, God said Mary’s seemingly inactive and passive option was the way to go.

We should strive to allow the Mary in us rule over the Martha so that we can pursue the one thing God says is needful. Mary and Martha made choices that day. We too are called to make choices daily. When we choose duties above quality time with God, we are making a Martha-choice instead of a Mary-choice. At the beginning of our day for instance, when our hectic schedule makes us want to rush out without spending time in adoration, prayer, Bible study and medication, the Martha and the Mary in us are struggling. By taking time out (no matter how brief) to fellowship with God, we are choosing the one thing that is needful. When we are at crossroads and we are tempted to use our limited understanding to determine which way to go, the Martha and the Mary in us are struggling. By taking the situation to God in prayer and waiting on Him for direction we are choosing the one thing that is needful. When we are faced with an seeming impossible situation and we are tempted to spend sleepless nights racking our brains for a solution and running everywhere but to God for help, the Mary and the Martha in us are struggling. By handing the issue over to God we are choosing the one needful thing. When we try to impress God with good works, instead of simply coming to Him by faith in Jesus Christ, the Martha and the Mary in us are struggling. By seeking salvation by grace through faith we say yes to Mary and no to Martha.

After you have chosen Jesus, you need to choose Mary or Martha. Which one will you be?

Koko Kalango is author, Colours of Life.

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