World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Select a resource above

Martha and Mary.

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.   39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.   40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.   41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:   42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

We may observe in this story,

I. The entertainment which Martha gave to Christ and his disciples at her house, v. 38. Observe,

1. Christ's coming to the village where Martha lived: As they went (Christ and his disciples together), he and they with him entered into a certain village. This village was Bethany, nigh to Jerusalem, whither Christ was now going up, and he took this in his way. Note (1.) Our Lord Jesus went about doing good (Acts x. 38), scattering his benign beams and influences as the true light of the world. (2.) Wherever Christ went his disciples went along with him. (3.) Christ honoured the country-villages with his presence and favour, and not the great and populous cities only; for, as he chose privacy, so he countenanced poverty.

2. His reception at Martha's house: A certain woman, named Martha, received him into her house, and made him welcome, for she was the housekeeper. Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, when he was here upon earth, was so poor that he was necessitated to be beholden to his friends for a subsistence. Though he was Zion's King, he had no house of his own either in Jerusalem or near it. (2.) There were some who were Christ's particular friends, whom he loved more than his other friends, and them he visited most frequently. He loved this family (John xi. 5), and often invited himself to them. Christ's visits are the tokens of his love, John xiv. 23. (3.) There were those who kindly received Christ into their houses when he was here upon earth. It is called Martha's house, for, probably, she was a widow, and was the housekeeper. Though it was expensive to entertain Christ for he did not come alone, but brought his disciples with him, yet she would not regard the cost of it. (How can we spend what we have better than in Christ's service!) Nay, though at this time it was grown dangerous to entertain him especially so near Jerusalem, yet she cared not what hazard she ran for his name's sake. Though there were many that rejected him, and would not entertain him, yet there was one that would bid him welcome. Though Christ is every where spoken against, yet there is a remnant to whom he is dear, and who are dear to him.

II. The attendance which Mary, the sister of Martha, gave upon the word of Christ, v. 20. 1. She heard his word. It seems, our Lord Jesus, as soon as he came into Martha's house, even before entertainment was made for him, addressed himself to his great work of preaching the gospel. He presently took the chair with solemnity; for Mary sat to hear him, which intimates that it was a continued discourse. Note, A good sermon is never the worse for being preached in a house; and the visits of our friends should be so managed as to make them turn to a spiritual advantage. Mary, having this price put into her hands, sat herself to improve it, not knowing when she should have such another. Since Christ is forward to speak, we should be swift to hear. 2. She sat to hear, which denotes a close attention. Her mind was composed, and she resolved to abide by it: not to catch a word now and then, but to receive all that Christ delivered. She sat at his feet, as scholars at the feet of their tutors when they read their lectures; hence Paul is said to be brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. Our sitting at Christ's feet, when we hear his word, signifies a readiness to receive it, and a submission and entire resignation of ourselves to the guidance of it. We must either sit at Christ's feet or be made his footstool; but, if we sit with him at his feet now, we shall sit with him on his throne shortly.

III. The care of Martha about her domestic affairs: But Martha was cumbered about much serving (v. 40), and that was the reason why she was not where Mary was—sitting at Christ's feet, to hear his word. She was providing for the entertainment of Christ and those that came with him. Perhaps she had no notice before of his coming, and she was unprovided, but was in care to have every thing handsome upon this occasion; she had not such guests every day. Housekeepers know what care and bustle there must be when a great entertainment is to be made. Observe here,

1. Something commendable, which must not be overlooked. (1.) Here was a commendable respect to our Lord Jesus; for we have reason to think it was not for ostentation, but purely to testify her good-will to him, that she made this entertainment. Note, Those who truly love Christ will think that well bestowed that is laid out for his honour. (2.) Here was a commendable care of her household affairs. It appears, from the respect shown to this family among the Jews (John xi. 19), that they were persons of some quality and distinction; and yet Martha herself did not think it a disparagement to her to lay her hand even to the service of the family, when there was occasion for it. Note, It is the duty of those who have the charge of families to look well to the ways of their household. The affectation of state and the love of ease make many families neglected.

2. Here was something culpable, which we must take notice of too. (1.) She was for much serving. Her heart was upon it, to have a very sumptuous and splendid entertainment; great plenty, great variety, and great exactness, according to the fashion of the place. She was in care, peri pollen diakonianconcerning much attendance. Note, It does not become the disciples of Christ to affect much serving, to affect varieties, dainties, and superfluities in eating and drinking; what need is there of much serving, when much less will serve? (2.) She was cumbered about it; periespato—she was just distracted with it. Note, Whatever cares the providence of God casts upon us we must not be cumbered with them, nor be disquieted and perplexed by them. Care is good and duty; but cumber is sin and folly. (2.) She was then cumbered about much serving when she should have been with her sister, sitting at Christ's feet to hear his word. Note, Worldly business is then a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting good to our souls.

IV. The complaint which Martha made to Christ against her sister Mary, for not assisting her, upon this occasion, in the business of the house (v. 40): "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister, who is concerned as well as I in having things done well, has left me to serve alone? Therefore dismiss her from attending thee, and bid her come and help me." Now,

1. This complaint of Martha's may be considered as a discovery of her worldliness: it was the language of her inordinate care and cumber. She speaks as one in a mighty passion with her sister, else she would not have troubled Christ with the matter. Note, The inordinacy of worldly cares and pursuits is often the occasion of disturbance in families and of strife and contention among relations. Moreover, those that are eager upon the world themselves are apt to blame and censure those that are not so too; and while they justify themselves in their worldliness, and judge of others by their serviceableness to them in their worldly pursuits, they are ready to condemn those that addict themselves to the exercises of religion, as if they neglected the main chance, as they call it. Martha, being angry at her sister, appealed to Christ, and would have him say that she did well to be angry. Lord, doest not thou care that my sister has let me to serve alone? It should seem as if Christ had sometimes expressed himself tenderly concerned for her, and her ease and comfort, and would not have her go through so much toil and trouble, and she expected that he should now bid her sister take her share in it. When Martha was caring, she must have Mary, and Christ and all, to care too, or else she is not pleased. Note, Those are not always in the right that are most forward to appeal to God; we must therefore take heed, lest at any time we expect that Christ should espouse our unjust and groundless quarrels. The cares which he cast upon us we may cheerfully cast upon him, but not those which we foolishly draw upon ourselves. He will be the patron of the poor and injured, but not of the turbulent and injurious.

2. It may be considered as a discouragement of Mary's piety and devotion. Her sister should have commended her for it, should have told her that she was in the right; but, instead of this, she condemns her as wanting in her duty. Note, It is no strange thing for those that are zealous in religion to meet with hindrances and discouragements from those that are about them; not only with opposition from enemies, but with blame and censure from their friends. David's fasting, and his dancing before the ark, were turned to his reproach.

V. The reproof which Christ gave to Martha for her inordinate care, v. 41. She appealed to him, and he gives judgment against her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, whereas but one thing is needful.

1. He reproved her, though he was at this time her guest. Her fault was her over-solicitude to entertain him, and she expected he should justify her in it, yet he publicly checked her for it. Note, As many as Christ loves he rebukes and chastens. Even those that are dear to Christ, if any thing be amiss in them, shall be sure to hear of it. Nevertheless I have something against thee.

2. When he reproved her, he called her by her name, Martha; for reproofs are then most likely to do good when they are particular, applied to particular persons and cases, as Nathan's to David, Thou art the man. He repeated her name, Martha, Martha; he speaks as one in earnest, and deeply concerned for her welfare. Those that are entangled in the cares of this life are not easily disentangled. To them we must call again and again, O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.

3. That which he reproved her for was her being careful and troubled about many things. He was not pleased that she should think to please him with a rich and splendid entertainment, and with perplexing herself to prepare it for him; whereas he would teach us, as not to be sensual in using such things, so not to be selfish in being willing that others should be troubled, no matter who or how many, so we may be gratified. Christ reproves her, both for the intenseness of her care ("Thou art careful and troubled, divided and disturbed by thy care"), and for the extensiveness of it, "about many things; thou dost grasp at many enjoyments, and so art troubled at many disappointments. Poor Martha, thou hast many things to fret at, and this puts thee out of humour, whereas less ado would serve." Note, Inordinate care or trouble about many things in this world is a common fault among Christ's disciples; it is very displeasing to Christ, and that for which they often come under the rebukes of Providence. If they fret for no just cause, it is just with him to order them something to fret at.

4. That which aggravated the sin and folly of her care was that but one thing is needful. It is a low construction which some put upon this, that, whereas Martha was in care to provide many dishes of meat, there was occasion but for one, one would be enough. There is need but of one thinghenos de esti chreia. If we take it so, it furnishes us with a rule of temperance, not to affect varieties and dainties, but to be content to sit down to one dish of meat, to half on one, Prov. xxiii. 1-3. It is a forced construction which some of the ancients put upon it: But oneness is needful, in opposition to distractions. There is need of one heart to attend upon the word, not divided and hurried to and fro, as Martha's was at this time. The one thing needful is certainly meant of that which Mary made her choice—sitting at Christ's feet, to hear his word. She was troubled about many things, when she should have applied herself to one; godliness unites the heart, which the world had divided. The many things she was troubled about were needless, while the one thing she neglected was needful. Martha's care and work were good in their proper season and place; but now she had something else to do, which was unspeakably more needful, and therefore should be done first, and most minded. She expected Christ to have blamed Mary for not doing as she did, but he blamed her for not doing as Mary did; and we are sure the judgment of Christ is according to truth. The day will come when Martha will wish she had set where Mary did.

VI. Christ's approbation and commendation of Mary for her serious piety: Mary hath chosen the good part. Mary said nothing in her own defence; but, since Martha has appealed to the Master, to him she is willing to refer it, and will abide by his award; and here we have it.

1. She had justly given the preference to that which best deserved it; for one thing is needful, this one thing that she has done, to give up herself to the guidance of Christ, and receive the law from his mouth. Note, Serious godliness is a needful thing, it is the one thing needful; for nothing without this will do us any real good in this world, and nothing but this will go with us into another world.

2. She had herein wisely done well for herself. Christ justified Mary against her sister's clamours. However we may be censured and condemned by men for our piety and zeal, our Lord Jesus will take our part: But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me. Let us not then condemn the pious zeal of any, lest we set Christ against us; and let us never be discouraged if we be censured for our pious zeal, for we have Christ for us. Note, Sooner or later, Mary's choice will be justified, and all those who make that choice, and abide by it. But this was not all; he applauded her for her wisdom: She hath chosen the good part; for she chose to be with Christ, to take her part with him; she chose the better business, and the better happiness, and took a better way of honouring Christ and of pleasing him, by receiving his word into her heart, than Martha did by providing for his entertainment in her house. Note, (1.) A part with Christ is a good part; it is a part for the soul and eternity, the part Christ gives to his favourites (John xiii. 8), who are partakers of Christ (Heb. iii. 14), and partakers with Christ, Rom. viii. 17. (2.) It is a part that shall never be taken away from those that have it. A portion in this life will certainly be taken away from us, at the furthest, when we shall be taken away from it; but nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ, and our part in that love. Men and devils cannot take it away from us, and God and Christ will not. (3.) It is the wisdom and duty of every one of us to choose this good part, to choose the service of God for our business, and the favour of God for our happiness, and an interest in Christ, in order to both. In particular cases we must choose that which has a tendency to religion, and reckon that best for us that is best for our souls. Mary was at her choice whether she would partake with Martha in her care, and get the reputation of a fine housekeeper, or sit at the feet of Christ and approve herself a zealous disciple; and, by her choice in this particular, Christ judges of her general choice. (4.) Those who choose this good part shall not only have what they choose, but shall have their choice commended in the great day.