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Luke 10:38-42 – Jesus with Martha and Mary


While visiting two sisters, Jesus praises the one who listens to what he says but admonishes the worry and distraction of the other.


This story is often interpreted to strike a contrast between two types of behavior, as if Jesus praises discipleship and learning while criticizing service. Some have taken the passage to assert the superiority of the contemplative life over the active life. Such readings, however, entirely miss the point.

The main focus of the story is the encounter between Jesus and Martha. Martha is described as distracted and worried. This prompts her to accuse her sister of abandoning her and leads her to try to use Jesus to satisfy her demands. Jesus does not admonish Martha for the kind of service and hospitality she offers. Indeed, elsewhere in Luke-Acts service of this sort is strongly praised. He cites, instead, her anxiety. Her desire to serve is laudable; her worry is not, for anxiety causes service to take its focus off of the guest and become jealous. Both of the women in this scene participate in activities that are consistent with Christian discipleship. What Jesus insists is that any expressions of discipleship should focus on Jesus himself.

Luke 10:38-42

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.’

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