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What Can We Learn from Mary and Martha in the Bible?

On the surface, and in many sermons, Martha is vilified, and Mary praised. Martha was wrong and Mary was right. However, there is more to learn here: Both women were being human, loved Jesus, and felt safe with him. Contributing Writer
Updated Apr 23, 2024
What Can We Learn from Mary and Martha in the Bible?

In the Gospels, Mary and Martha of Bethany offer profound lessons on discipleship and service. In Luke 10, we encounter Martha, bustling with the duties of hospitality, contrasted with Mary, who chooses to sit at Jesus' feet, absorbing His teachings. The narrative shifts in John 11 and 12, where we see these sisters again in the context of their brother Lazarus's death and resurrection, showcasing their faith and roles within their community.  Their story invites every believer to reflect on the balance between active service and contemplative faith and encourages thoughtful consideration of our own spiritual priorities.

Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha

The infamous story of Mary and Martha is found in Luke chapter 10.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“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.”

On the surface, and in many sermons, Martha is vilified, and Mary praised. Martha was wrong and Mary was right. However, there is more to learn here.

Both women were being human. Martha was doing what society expected of her as a woman. Mary sat to listen to Jesus without inviting her sister to join her.

Both women loved Jesus. Martha invited Jesus and his disciples into her home. Mary was enraptured by what Jesus was teaching.

Both women felt safe with Jesus. Martha interrupted Jesus’ teaching to tattle on her sister, accuse him of not caring, and tell him what to do. Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus instead of what societal customs would dictate to her.

Jesus used this situation to illustrate “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

What can we learn from this? It’s not a crime to be human. We will do things imperfectly and the grace of God can handle that. God will address the issues in our lives and teach us what we need to know. He will gently correct us, and we are safe with him.

Mary And Martha When Lazarus Died

The story is found in John chapter 11. It started with Lazarus getting sick. When this happened, Jesus was out of town and the sisters sent word to him saying “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3).

The story continues with: When Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. It is for the glory of God, to bring glory to the Son of God.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. But when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.

Lazarus died.

When Jesus does arrive, Martha runs out to meet him while Mary stays behind.

What happens next is a conversation between just Jesus and Martha where she declares her faith in him as the Messiah.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you anything you ask.” 

Jesus said, “Your brother will rise and live again.” 

Martha answered, “I know that he will rise and live again in the resurrection on the last day.” 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Martha, do you believe this?” 

Martha answered, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One coming to the world.”

Then Martha returns to her sister and tells her Jesus is asking for her. Mary takes off to see Jesus where she falls at his feet in grief saying the same thing her sister had. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus responds differently to Mary.

When Jesus saw Mary crying and the Jews who came with her also crying, he was upset and was deeply troubled.  He asked, “Where did you bury him?”

“Come and see, Lord,” they said.

Jesus cried.

So the Jews said, “See how much he loved him.”

The bystanders start to question Jesus and why he let Lazarus die. He responds with action instead of words and Martha speaks up.

Jesus said, “Move the stone away.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus proceeds to raise Lazarus from the dead and the story goes off in another direction. So, we’ll get back to Mary and Martha in this story.

What can we learn from this? God is blessed by our faith but is also bigger than our doubt. God is bigger than our troubles and deeply cares about our pain.

He treats us as individuals according to our needs. And not only will he bring life where there is death, but he will also demonstrate Romans 8:28,

We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.

Mary and Martha at Dinner

The Bible records Jesus being anointed three times. In John chapter 12, here at this dinner, was the second time.

It was a common thing for Jesus to spend time with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But this dinner became a bit different.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Here we have Martha serving again but there is no correction. Mary pours perfume on Jesus and Martha has no complaint. Mary is chided by a disciple but doesn’t defend herself.

What can we learn from this? Hospitality is a good thing when done from a peaceful heart. When we lavish love on our Savior, it’s sweet and honorable. And we can trust God to defend us because he loves us.

How I love you, Lord! You are my defender. The Lord is my protector; he is my strong fortress. My God is my protection, and with him I am safe. He protects me like a shield; he defends me and keeps me safe. I call to the Lord, and he saves me from my enemies. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 18:1-3, GNT).

For further reading:

Who Are All the Marys of the Bible?

What Is the Significance of ‘Jesus Wept’ in the Face of Death?

How Did Jesus Treat Women in the Bible?

How the Women in the Bible Were Revered, Respected, and Diverse

Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?

What Does it Mean That ‘All Things Work Together for Good’?

What Is the Difference Between Knowing Jesus and Knowing about Jesus?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes

Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named PaynLove’s ManifestoBecause You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle


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