By Diane Barstow

The purpose of devotional time is to focus our attention on something in scripture and to meditate on it in order to receive personal insight into what it means. IF we ask the Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment to our heart and mind regarding a passage or particular verse, He will do exactly that, because that’s one of the purposes for which Jesus has sent Him to us. In this case let’s focus on three incidents involving Mary and Martha - the sisters of Lazarus. I believe there’s a delightful message for women in particular to be found in these passages of scripture. This is the only passage I’m going to read, the rest you’ll study at home.

‘Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”’ Luke 10:38-42

Do you mind if we look at a few of the words used in this passage to make things a little clearer?

Distracted - to be over-occupied, too busy about a thing, in the imperfect tense (Generally represents continuous or repeated action. Where the present tense might indicate ‘they are asking’ the imperfect would indicate they kept on asking) Too elaborate preparation, which so engrossed her attention that she missed her Lord’s teaching

Worried (merimnao) and bothered (thorybazo) troubled in mind, disquieted, both in the present tense, inward worry and outward bustle of preparations. Do you ever find yourself scurrying about trying to get your house ready for company, so worried that it isn’t clean enough, or cute enough, or something enough that you’re crabby and short tempered with people? Remember that Martha’s ‘too elaborate preparations’ were done out of love and respect for Jesus. She wanted EVERYTHING to be perfect for Him and His disciples.

Jesus makes the contrast between many things and one thing. Many things are not bad in themselves, but only one thing is necessary.

One thing means exclusive of the rest, one thing above all others

Necessary means needful, there is need of something

Chosen means to pick or choose for one’s self

Good means which ensures salvation to him/her who chooses it, part means an assigned part, portion, or share

Let’s read this passage again in another translation:

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister Mary sat spellbound on the floor listening to Jesus as he talked. But Martha was the jittery type, and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to You that my sister just sits there while I do all the work? Make her come and help.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth your concern. Mary has chosen it and I won't take it away from her!’” (Living Gospels Translation, K. Taylor)

Discipline or correction, even spoken in love, can trigger our pride to rise up defensively. “For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11 Have you ever had to tell a friend something hard? Have you ever had to point out a flaw or a mistake? It requires a close relationship, mutual trust, and intimate knowledge of a person in order to be bold enough to do that. Jesus, Lazarus, Martha and Mary were very close. Jesus relied on His intimate knowledge of, and close friendship with Martha to point out and correct this minor flaw in her character. And what’s the result if both hearts are in the right place - sanctification! Jesus, in this passage reveals the diagnosis, the symptoms, the remedy, and the treatment of the issue. One of the things I love about Jesus is that He will listen to a person speak and then, by His omniscience, get down to the real matter at hand. This is exactly the case with Martha in our first few verses. She complains that Mary isn’t helping her, but Jesus says her real problem is that she’s constantly worried and troubled in mind about many things. This is a focus problem, and asking Mary to help won’t remedy the real issue - anxious, disquieted thoughts. Is this you? Do you find yourself troubled in mind about many things? Jesus gives us the antidote to this brain-poison - placing the first priority first, sitting at His feet. In fact, He says that this is the only necessary thing. Many things are useful, but few things are necessary. “The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary and afterwards you may work with Martha. They each had a different form of excellence. The key is to keep each form of excellence in proper proportion to each other.” Charles Spurgeon. I am looking forward to knowing the rest of the story. Did Mary get up and help on her own accord? Did Martha sit down and listen?? As you look at Mary and Martha in these other passages, notice that Martha’s faith has grown, there’s no evidence of bitterness in her responses to Jesus. Martha has indeed been trained by this character course correction.

Our next passage:

‘Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So, the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was .Then after this He said to His disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not 12 hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go, so that I may awaken him out of the sleep. The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover. Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought He was speaking of literal sleep. So, Jesus then said to them, plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Therefore, Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go also so that we may die with him.” So, when Jesus came, he found he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 2 miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, If you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the son of God, even He who comes into the world.” When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, secretly, “The teacher is here and is calling for you.” When she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha met him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in Spirit, and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So, the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” So, Jesus again, being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave and a stone was lying against it. Jesus, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So, they remove the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but because of the people standing around, I said it so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.” Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He had done believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.’ John 11:1-46

As you study this portion for yourself, I want you to notice a couple of things recorded about the sisters’ responses to Jesus. It was Martha, not Mary, who met Him on the road, spoke her confession of faith, and worshiped Him. It was she who Jesus probed with good questions, her understanding, and she who answered His questions in faith. She again obeyed when He told her to fetch Mary. Mary said exactly the same thing Martha did about their brother not dying if Jesus had been there. Then they both obeyed when Jesus said to go to the tomb and open it!

Our next passage: note that this is the day before His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). This very incident sent Judas over the edge to betray Jesus!

‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman, for she has done a good deed to me? For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. For when she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her“‘ Matthew 26:6-13 This same incident is also found in John 12 and Mark 14.

Regarding our Mary in this passage - please notice how she perfectly combines worship and service, and how much he respected her love offering to Him!

Our last passage:

‘Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet. His feet, with her tears and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now, when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors, one owed him 500 denarii and the other 50. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for my feet. But she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume. For this reason, I say to you, her sins, which are many have been forgiven for she loved much, and he who is forgiven little, loves little. Then he said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”’ Luke 7:36-50

While studying this portion I found myself confronted with a conundrum. There is another story, found in Luke chapter 7, Simon the Pharisee and a woman named Mary who anoints the feet of Jesus with perfume from an alabaster vial. Is this or is this not the same story? I don’t have time to read the entire passage, so please read it for yourself when you get home. I want you to note a couple of details that cleared my confusion over these accounts. First - the woman named Mary is a sinner (hamartolos) preeminently sinful, especially wicked. We do not see anywhere else in recorded scripture that Mary the sister of Lazarus was described as sinful. Second - Simon is identified as a leper in both the gospel of Matthew and Mark accounts, but not here. Both Mary and Simon were very common names in Israel at that time, and these two details made it clear to my mind that this particular narrative is not the Simon and Mary of Bethany.

Women are distinct from men in so many ways and women bible teachers also differ from men in many ways. Mainly because we understand the mind and behavior of women better than they do, with the admirable exception of Charles Spurgeon. His respect and admiration for these sisters was, to me, a breath of fresh air!

Can we not see ourselves represented by these sisters? A percentage of Martha and a percentage of Mary to make 100%? Are you convicted or inspired to be more Mary-like, or less anxious than Martha? I think the title of a book Jane loaned me captures the dilemma we all face - Having a Mary HEART in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. I think the balance to these passages is found in the word HEART. Gaining a heart of intimacy with and worship of Jesus equips us to serve Him with gladness and not anxiety.

So how does that look, practically? Put on your Martha apron and imagine with me. You’re expecting a guest, a special guest. You prepare the space, you tidy up, you prepare some goodies and set the table, you make your home even homier and peaceful by removing any distractions (turn off the tv, etc). You then wait with confident anticipation for your guest to arrive. You have set aside as much time as necessary to fully hear and be fully heard. This kind of hospitality requires a little sacrifice; get up a little earlier in the morning, have plenty of time to get ready, don’t overcrowd your day. If you invited an author to your house, wouldn’t you have read their book, or at least be conversant on their topic? Yeah? Be well-read of your bible so when the Holy Spirit comes to illuminate or remind you of what Jesus has said, you’ll be prepared. Isn’t it less stressful to host good, intimate friends in your home, rather than strangers? Doesn’t frequency equal intimacy? Daily devotional time equals growth in your faith!!


By John Newton

Martha, her love and Joy expressed

by care to entertain her guest;

While Mary sat to hear her Lord,

and could not bear to lose a word.

The principle in both the same,

produced in each a different aim;

The one to feast the Lord was led,

the other waited to be fed.

But Mary chose the better part,

her Savior’s words refreshed her heart;

While busy Martha angry grew

and lost her time and temper too.

With warmth, she to her sister spoke,

but brought upon herself rebuke’

One thing is needful, and but one,

why do thy thoughts on many run?

How oft we are, like Martha vexed,

encumbered, hurried, and perplexed!

While trifles so engross our thought,

the one thing needful is forgot.

Lord, teach us this one thing to choose

which they who gained can never lose;

Sufficient in itself alone,

and needful were the world our own.

Let groveling hearts the world admire,

Thy love is all that I require!

Gladly I may the rest resign.

if the one needful thing be mine!

For further study:

John 11:1-46

As you study this portion for yourself I want you to notice a couple of things recorded about the sisters’ responses to Jesus.

It was Martha, not Mary, who met Him on the road, spoke her confession of faith, worshiped Him, understood and answered His question, and obeyed when He told her to fetch Mary.

Mary said exactly the same thing Martha did about their brother not dying if Jesus had been there. What does this passage tell YOU about the sisters? What application do you find here?

Matthew 26:6-13 This same incident is also found in John 12 and Mark 14.

Regarding our Mary in this passage - please notice how she perfectly combines worship and service, and how much he respected her love offering to Him! What characteristics of each sister do you see in Mary’s act of devotion?

Read Luke 7:36-50

This passage is still an important lesson even though it’s not about the same Simon and Mary - but IS about the same Jesus!