Many of us read the tale of two sisters, Mary and Martha, and tend to identify with one sister more than the other. If you are a Martha-type distracted with much serving then you likely feel guilt that you are not more Mary (or at least more merry). If you are a Mary-type seemingly sitting constantly at the feet of Jesus you are likely to justify your life because Jesus declared that, “Mary had chosen that good part, which would not be taken away from her” [Lu. 10:38-42]. Rather than choosing the Mary or Martha life, perhaps we should pursue them both. Imagine a third sister, Marsha, who embodied the best of both Mary and Martha? What would Marsha be like? Here are three keys to be a Marsha in a Mary or Martha world:
A. Serve Jesus with healthy boundaries:
Martha loves Jesus and welcomes him into her home, “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house” [Lu. 10:38]. Martha would sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to her Lord. We sometimes overlook the fact that Martha was a devoted worshiper who sat at Jesus feet, but here it is, “Martha had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet” . The fact that Martha’s sister Mary also sat at Jesus feet means that Martha did too. The problems arose when Martha arose to serve.
When Martha felt that it was time to get to work serving Jesus she failed to create and respect healthy boundaries. The problem is not serving. Jesus does not correct Martha for her desire to serve Him. Serving Christ is good and noble when there are healthy boundaries. Here are four healthy boundaries to consider when serving Jesus:
- Don’t let the serving distract. “Martha was distracted with much serving” . The Greek term speaks of being over-occupied, too busy, or pulled apart. In this case, Martha was pulled apart from Jesus and her own spiritual health. I can so relate to the experience and feeling of being pulled apart from Jesus, because I was over-occupied and too busy trying to serve Jesus.
- Don’t question whether He cares. Martha approached Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” . Sometimes when I am trying too hard to serve the Lord, and I feel that others aren’t I can question whether Jesus cares. Of course He cares. He may simply have not called me to do what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. Or perhaps, I’m simply not realizing that my expectations of others may not be God’s expectations (no matter how reasonable I might believe they are).
- Don’t order the Lord and tell Him what to do. Martha continues, “Therefore tell her to help me” . Martha was frustrated with her sister, perceived that Mary is lazy and compelled Martha to do all the work. Martha effectively orders Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Martha’s chutzpah is remarkable to me, but also convicting. I’ve undoubtedly done the same in prayer. It is much healthier for me to simply serve the Lord with reasonable boundaries then to presume to tell Him to order others to share in the work I feel called to.
4. Don’t be uptight. “Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things” . The Greek terms relate to being anxious, troubled with cares, and can relate to seeking to promote one’s interests. Whenever I’m uptight in serving God it is an indicator that I’ve neglected healthy boundaries. It can be manifest by worry, troubled with cares, or promoting my interests (even if they are also arguably God’s interests).
B. Worship Jesus with focused attention and abundant adoration:
Mary loves Jesus and sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word . She is a role model of devotion and worship. She avoided striving and stayed centered in the Lord’s love. Here are three truths about worship:
- Worship is needed. Jesus gently corrected Martha and made clear that worship (focused attention and abundant adoration of Him) is what is needed, “But one thing is needed” . Serving Jesus is important, but worship is the priority. We must create healthy boundaries that provide margin for us to spend quality and quantity time with Jesus.
- Worship is a choice. Jesus declared, “Mary has chosen that good part” . You must choose to worship. Once you create margin then you have a choice of what to fill that margin with. You must choose to prioritize and protect the time with Christ. There are countless things competing for our attention, devotion, and adoration. Choose wisely, because you become like whatever you choose to worship.
- Worship is worthy of protection by Jesus. Once you create margin and choose to worship Jesus will honor your choice by helping to protect it. Jesus was quick to honor and protect Mary from her sister, “which will not be taken away from her” , and later from the disciples [Jn. 12:7].
C. Keep growing in grace, knowledge, and faith in Jesus:
Mary and Martha both loved Jesus, and like us they needed to keep growing. When their brother Lazarus died, Mary fell at Jesus’ feet weeping and said, “Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus groaned and ultimately was moved to tears [Jn. 11:32-35]. Presumably Jesus is not crying about Lazarus for He knows that his life will soon be restored. Perhaps Jesus is moved to tears due to his love for Martha and Mary and seeing their pain. But I suspect that Jesus wept, because He felt that if there was any worshiper who understood that He was the Christ and had all authority over life and death it was Mary. And Mary’s response revealed the limits on her understanding about Jesus.
Jesus’ miraculous restoration of Lazarus, and simply their continued experiences with Him helped Mary and Martha to keep growing in Christ [Jn. 12:1-7]. Martha served without complaint. Apparently Mary helped prepare the supper. And Mary extravagantly anointed Jesus as an expression of love and worship. Both Mary and Martha blessed Jesus. Instead of choosing to be either Mary or Martha, let’s seek to be “both and.”
How have you learned to be a Marsha in a Mary or Martha world?