The dilemma of Mary and Martha


There is work to be done. How can I sit at Jesus' feet?

by Crystal Nachtigall

In the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, Martha hosts a dinner for Jesus. She’s “distracted with much serving,” saying to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her 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” (ESV).

This story has haunted me for years. We all want to be Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, soaking in the grace and peace of his presence. We want to be Mary in our homes and families too; we’d love to snuggle on the couch with our kids all day, reading books, making bracelets and playing pretend. But the dirty diapers must be changed, the groceries must be purchased and if we never took out the trash—you get the point. 

At times I’ve felt sympathy for Martha. We’ve been there—hosting a party and being stuck in the kitchen trying to get all the food ready while the guests are laughing and enjoying the appetizers out on the patio. We say to ourselves, “Somebody’s got to do this.” 

So here’s the dilemma: I truly want to be a Mary, but sometimes I’m stuck being a Martha simply because Martha’s work must be done eventually. Can you relate?

Looking at the original text, I notice that Jesus doesn’t correct Martha for working. In fact, Luke says that Martha is “serving,” which we often see Jesus himself doing. Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t work.” Rather, Jesus corrects Martha’s attitude while praising Mary’s. It’s as if he’s inviting us to drop the bitter, workaholic act and sit down—proverbially or literally—as the eager, relaxed listener.

This passage offers priceless insight to me as a parent. Yes, there is work to be done, diapers to change and food to prepare. But instead of being “anxious and troubled,” Jesus invites me as a parent to take on Mary’s attitude. Instead of cultivating that stressed, harried, hectic attitude with my kids, perhaps the Lord wants me to model an attitude of relaxed joy and willing service as I go about my work. 

Instead of gawking over the increasing mountain of dishes in the sink, I can thank the Lord for the delicious meal we shared as a family with the food we could afford to buy. Rather than begrudgingly taking out the stinky diaper trash, I can celebrate the fact that my kids have perfectly working digestive systems that are fearfully and wonderfully made. And those dirty spots on the walls can wait.  As a friend says, “I’m not raising a house. I’m raising kids.”

If Jesus came to my house for dinner, I’m sure there would be toys on the floor.  But I bet he’d plop right down between the blocks and the rocking horse, hold little Sam on his lap and tell my girls a story. Would I stress over dinner? I have a few Tilapia fillets and bread loaves in my freezer. Maybe if I tell Jesus about my fish and loaves he’ll do the cooking.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make myself a sign to hang in my entryway that reads, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!”

This essay by Crystal Nachtigall, Fresno, Calif., first appeared on the Bethany MB Church blog, “proverbs2v6” ( and is reprinted with her permission.



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