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I think it’s fair to say that there are LOTS of Mary’s in the Bible. Mary the mother Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the sons of Zebedee… who can keep them all straight?
Well what is distinctive about Mary of Bethany is that she is the sister to Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus was Jesus’ beloved friend (John 11:9), who He raised from the dead. Mary and Martha are most commonly tied together, and here in Luke 10, we get to see exactly how different they are.
Martha is always known as the “busy one”. She’s the type-A, go getter who seems to always get a bad rap as a busy body. While I really believe Martha truly had a servant’s heart and that we need Marthas in our world, we get to learn from the contrast of Martha’s doing and Mary’s stillness.
Verse 39 tells us that Mary was “seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” How sweet does that sound? To sit at the Lord’s feet and get to listen to His word. But while Mary is so humbly soaking in every moment with the Lord, Martha begins to complain about Mary not helping. Here Martha is serving her heart out cooking, cleaning, doing everything she can to make sure that Jesus feels as at home and comfortable as possible, and Mary has the audacity to just sit there.
In response to Martha’s irritation, Jesus so graciously says “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 10:41-42, emphasis mine). In contrast to Martha worrying about feeding Jesus and getting the dishes done, Jesus tells her that Mary’s attitude of worship and her open ears to Jesus’ words were all that matter.
Mary seemed to understand that when the Messiah is sitting in your living room, the dirty dishes can wait.
Jesus didn’t just come so that we could be perfect hosts and serve gourmet meals on beautifully set tables, or even so that we could spend all of our Sundays in the children’s ministry, or all of our free-time pouring into a small group of peers or a few high schoolers. Jesus came to give the one thing that Mary, Martha, and each of us needs— He came to give Himself.
Mary shows us that no amount of doing will give us a relationship with Jesus. The one thing we need is simply Him and His life-saving, heart-changing presence. We are all Marthas and Marys, struggling to know when to sit and when to run, when to “do” and when to “be.” But rest easy, today, friend, because as believers in Jesus, we can hold fast to the hope that we have that one thing.