The Real Lesson from Mary and Martha

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42 NIV

In case you aren’t familiar with the story of these two sisters, I’ll set the scene. They had the great honor of hosting Jesus in their home during His travels. Excitement and rising tension must have mingled in their hearts as He approached. We can infer from Scripture that it wasn’t a planned visit.

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10:38-40a

Can you imagine it? The Teacher who healed the sick and cast out demons was coming to their home. Martha had invited Him. Spontaneously. Yet while she was nearly killing herself to make her guest feel like the King she believed Him to be, Mary just sat there with Him, not lifting a finger to help.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Martha.

 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!” Luke 10:40

I can relate to Martha, can’t you? Resentment piling up in her heart as she tried to honor the Lord with her very best. In this work-driven world we live in, it only makes sense to us that Jesus would prefer our service. Logic tells us we should demonstrate His worth by what we do for Him.

But that isn’t how Jesus responded.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

Did you notice, dear one? Jesus actually said He preferred Mary’s choice. According to Him, only one thing is needed. And I believe what Jesus really wants from us can be summed up in one word.


Beloved, this word will change your life if you allow it to. Its message is simple, yet profound. And it’s what most of us miss as we struggle through this Christian life trying to perform and earn His approval.

Jesus doesn’t want your performance, dear one. He wants your heart. And He didn’t go to that cross to get anything from you. He went to that cross so that He could give. Lavishly. We call this mystery grace.

Jesus doesn't want your performance. He wants your heart. Click To Tweet

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. Ephesians 1:7-8

The great distinction between the message of the cross and the religion that Christ came to conquer is that grace receives from Jesus. While religion serves Him to earn His favor, grace receives what can never be earned. If we don’t understand this, we can spend our whole lives striving to earn what we’ve already been given. We can busy ourselves like Martha, doing good things to please the Lord, bustling around Him in a well-intentioned frenzy, while never stopping to connect with His heart. And we’ll suffer the soul-crushing oppression of living in defeat. Frustrated. Worried. Angry. Wishing He would do something to put the people who aren’t serving like we are in line.

Grace receives from Jesus what can never be earned. Click To Tweet

The way of the cross—the way of grace—receives from Jesus what He bled to give.

He died to restore your union with His own Spirit, and from that connection, teach you how to live as a kingdom child drawing from the provision and protection of your Father.

This is the hardest lesson for us to learn, dear one: receiving versus doing. Since the time of the fall, mankind has lived bound to self-sufficiency, each of us struggling to earn our place in the world. But through the cross, our place has been determined. We have been anointed for greatness, image bearers positioned to reveal His glorious goodness in this broken earth as we understand and learn to access what Christ has lavishly given.

Which is precisely why the enemy wants to fill your life with frenzied serving. Once he’s lost you to the kingdom of heaven, he does all he can to separate you from the grace that defeats him. So, he convinces you to keep on striving, to please God and earn His favor—at the expense of receiving from Jesus the truth of who you really are.

In 2 Corinthians 6:1, Paul implores the church, “…we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” Beloved, you can live your whole life never reaping the benefits of the grace you’ve been lavished in. How? Because you keep trying to earn and never learn to receive. Religion even twists what Mary chose into a work we must perform. It screams, “Be like Mary. Have your quiet time. Read the Scriptures and pray. Jesus will not be pleased with you if you don’t.”

But the real point of this story isn’t what Mary did. It’s what her choice allowed Jesus to do. Sitting at Jesus’ feet allowed Him to give to her. It also enabled Mary to receive what He wanted to give. And this, my friend, is the glorious wonder of the cross. Jesus bled, not so that we could kill ourselves trying to earn His favor, but so that He could pour Himself into us and empower us to live from His provision. If we keep ourselves so busy we don’t have time to sit with Him, you and I will never receive what He wants to give.

You see, only Jesus can tell you who you really are. He created you. He knows what makes you tick, what feeds your soul, what He created you to do. Beloved, you need divine power to fulfill divine calling.

And you’ll only discover it in His presence. Face to Face.

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