Mary and Martha - Bible Story Summary

The Story of Mary and Martha Teaches Us a Lesson About Priorities

Mary and Martha Bible Story
Mary sits at Jesus' feet with Martha in the background. Christ With Martha and Maria, by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1886 (Public Domain)

Scripture References to Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38-42; John 12:2.

Bible Story Summary

Jesus Christ and his disciples stopped at the house of Martha in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. Her sister Mary lived there, along with their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to his words. Martha, meanwhile, was distracted with preparing and serving the meal for the group.

Frustrated, Martha scolded Jesus, asking him whether he cared that her sister had left her to fix the meal alone. She told Jesus to order Mary to help her with the preparations.

"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, NIV)

Lesson From Mary and Martha

For centuries people in the church have puzzled over the Mary and Martha story, knowing that someone has to do the work. The point of this passage, however, is about making Jesus and his word our first priority. Today we come to know Jesus better through prayer, church attendance, and Bible study.

If all 12 apostles and some of the women who supported Jesus' ministry were traveling with him, fixing the meal would have been a major job. Martha, like many hostesses, became anxious over impressing her guests.

Martha has been compared to the Apostle Peter: practical, impulsive, and short-tempered to the point of rebuking the Lord himself. Mary is more like the Apostle John: reflective, loving, and calm.

Even still, Martha was a remarkable woman and deserves considerable credit. It was quite rare in Jesus' day for a woman to manage her own affairs as the head of the household, and especially to invite a man into her home.

Welcoming Jesus and his entourage into her house implied the fullest form of hospitality and involved substantial generosity.

Martha appears to be the eldest of the family, and head of the sibling household. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, both sisters played a prominent role in the story and their contrasting personalities are evident in this account as well. Although both were upset and disappointed that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died, Martha ran out to meet Jesus as soon as she learned he had entered Bethany, but Mary waited at home. John 11:32 tells us that when Mary did finally go to Jesus, she fell at his feet weeping.

Some of us tend to be more like Mary in our Christian walk, while others resemble Martha. It's likely we have qualities of both within us. We may be inclined at times to let our busy lives of service distract us from spending time with Jesus and listening to his word. It's significant to note, though, that Jesus gently admonished Martha for being "worried and upset," not for serving. Service is a good thing, but sitting at Jesus' feet is best. We must remember what is most important.

Good works should flow from a Christ-centered life; they do not produce a Christ-centered life.

When we give Jesus the attention he deserves, he empowers us to serve others.

Questions for Reflection

Do I have my priorities in order? Like Martha, am I worried or anxious about many things, or, like Mary am I focused on listening to Jesus and spending time in his presence? Have I put devotion to Christ and his word first, or am I more concerned about doing good deeds?