Luke 10:38-42

Key Verses: 10:41, 42


“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Last week we learned about God of Hope through the word of God during our summer Bible conference. Jesus, the light of the world, planted hope in our heart. God opened our eyes to look up the heavens and count the stars. Jesus accepted what we offered to him as a beautiful thing though it looked foolish to the eyes of the world. In today’s passage, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. The visit is built around a contrast. Jesus and Martha are the focus of the action, though Mary is the point of the example-despite her saying nothing. We see Martha, busy and hurried, engaged in getting everything right for Jesus’ visit, disturbed over Mary’s lack of help. We see Mary seated at the feet of Jesus, the position of a disciple, listening to every word. Mary pictures devotion to God and his teaching through faithful attention to Jesus. It is better to be a listening disciple than a immaculate host. May God bless us to set our priority in listening to Jesus’ word in the fall semester and following his example as workers in his harvest fields.


Look at verse 38. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” According to John, this village was Bethany, a small suburb about two miles away from Jerusalem (John 11:1). But Luke does not identify the city. To Luke the place was not so important; what happened there was important. Jesus and his disciples had been traveling along, going from place to place. There were a lot of disciples. They needed a place to stay and something to eat. But it was not easy for anyone to take care of them because they consumed a lot of food. But there was someone. It was Martha. She opened her home to them.  Again, Luke reveals that behind Jesus’ messianic ministry there were sacrificial women of God.

When Martha opened her home to Jesus it was a beautiful thing to Jesus. To Jewish people, the home was regarded as the family sanctuary. The home was a sacred place for family fellowship and even for worship services. Jewish people were very discerning about inviting people to their homes. We have heard the saying, “A man’s home is his castle.” These days for the sake of privacy people are reluctant to open their home to others. But Martha opened her home to Jesus. She invited Jesus wholeheartedly. Martha knew there would be a tremendous amount of work involved in caring for Jesus and his disciples. But she opened her home to them. Martha was hardworking, generous and wise enough to invite Jesus. Jesus did not hesitate to accept her invitation.

In God’s work, women like Martha are very important. In Luke 8:3 we learned about other sacrificial women of God who served Jesus and his company selflessly. Luke gave much credit to these women as part of Jesus’ fruitful ministry. Whenever I visit Chicago, Mother Barry opened her home to me. She served me with coffee and cakes. Many men see that Martha opened her home to Jesus and take it for granted. But this required a great deal of work on Martha’s part and willingness to sacrifice. Whenever I have guests, I asked women missionaries to open their homes with on short notice and they opened their homes like Martha. Their sacrificial service will remain as beautiful things forever. All married couples should open their honeymoon-homes for serving hungry students. Some people see Martha as only a negative example. But Martha had a very good point. We enjoy delicious lunch every Sunday. Without Martha how can we enjoy our lunch? We need Martha. Her only problem was that she lost Jesus and distracted. What is the solution? We need Mary-like Martha.  How? Let’s think Mary’s choice.


Look at verse 39. “She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Only the author Luke mentioned this event in his gospel narrative. He was concerned about the status of women, children, and the Gentiles. It is a revolution for a woman to be in the position of a disciple, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his word in a culture where women did not receive formal teaching from a rabbi. Instead they were noted for their service. Luke liberated women from a stereo-type world view and elevated their position as active followers of Jesus’ teaching. It is refreshing and uplifting just thinking about a woman called Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his word intensively. Mary seems to be the younger sister. She is different in character than Martha. She seems to be very sweet and lovely and not so diligent. But she was excellent in one thing. She loved to listen to Jesus’ Bible teaching. As Jesus taught about the kingdom of God, Mary sat at his feet listening to what he said. Her heart was captured by the words of Jesus. She felt that Jesus’ teaching was more important than anything else in the whole world. While listening to what Jesus said, God of hope revived in her deep soul and she accepted the living hope of the kingdom of God. As Jesus continued to speak, his words liberated her from all kinds of worries and cares of this world. She forgot about time and dinner preparations and Martha when she listened to the word of Jesus. The word of truth set her from the burdens of sin. To her, the word of Jesus was sweeter than the honey. Mary enjoyed the word of truth and had deeper relationship with Jesus. The word of Jesus was spiritual food to her hungry soul. She was transfixed on the sweet word of Jesus. Heavenly sunshine touched her soul, flooding her heart. After listening to Jesus, Mary had done a beautiful thing to Jesus by breaking a jar of expensive perfume and pouring the perfume on his head. Her beautiful service followed after she experienced personal love and grace through Jesus’ word of forgiveness.  

In this event, Mary and Martha are contrasted. According to verse 42, we see that, in Jesus’ evaluation, Mary has chosen what is better. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his word. Mary did not say a word but only listened to Jesus. Jesus commented that she chose what is better. Then Martha chose what is good and Mary did what is better. Martha chose to prepare dinner for Jesus and the disciples. I do not discourage people to prepare a lunch or a dinner. It is a good thing but this is the matter of priority. Time with Jesus is more important than preparing an elaborate meal for him. Sometimes the activity associated with service can prevent us from hearing God’s word. Service of the hand cannot supersede service of the ear, since the ear instructs the heart and the heart guides the hand. Humanly speaking, it looks like Mary is being lazy and selfish and a spoiled youngest daughter. But Jesus did not think so. Jesus was happy that Mary sat down to study the Bible with him. Here we learn that Jesus’ real intention in visiting the home of Mary and Martha was to teach the Bible to them. Mary was humble enough to recognize her need. She needed Jesus’ word. She perceived Jesus’ heart’s desire to give her his word. Of course, Jesus and his disciples were hungry and needed a place to stay. But Jesus’ real intention in visiting the house was to share the word of God with Mary and Martha.  Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God as of first importance. In this part, we learn from Mary that what Jesus really wants us to do is to sit at his feet and listen to his word. Jesus visits to bless, not to burden. Most of all, we learn from Jesus that he taught the Bible to one open-hearted person as of first importance.


Look at verse 40. “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!’” Luke says, “But Martha was distracted.” She was irritated. She complained to Jesus that he did not care about her situation. She felt that she was left alone. Serving is not the problem. Her attitude as “distracted” by her service was the problem. Serving is fine. In the middle of all the preparations that had to be made, she lost Jesus. She was not happy by doing many things. Mary was very happy by doing nothing but sitting and listening to Jesus. Martha missed the point of Jesus’ coming. She did not know that Jesus came to teach the Bible to her. She did not know that Jesus really wanted fellowship with her.  Jesus wanted her to listen to him and receive the words of eternal life.  But Martha was distracted because she wanted to prepare a perfect and spotless meal for Jesus and his disciples. She was perfect and spotless in her character. She thought about the pot roast in the oven, the potatoes that were not peeled, and the water jars that were still half empty. She realized that she was out of pepper, tomatoes, lettuce, and beef. How could she cook without them? The back room was messy, the laundry was not done, the disciples needed their socks mended, and so on and so on. After about forty things had piled up in her brain, she had experienced brain overload, and she just couldn’t take it anymore. Her distraction was turned into complain and worries and it brought her an upset stomach. She was most sorry and upset that Mary was sitting down when there was so much work to be done. She wanted Mary to listen to her. But Mary paid no attention. So Martha went to Jesus and expressed her frustration and her doubt about Jesus’ love and understanding of the situation. She really wanted Jesus to rebuke Mary for being lazy and useless and selfish and indifferent. Marta wanted Jesus to tell Mary to help her immediately. Instead of listening to Jesus, Martha was pushing Jesus to listen to her complaint. Jesus did not side with Martha’s complaint about her sister Mary. Jesus is slow to take the side of the one who complains.

What did Jesus do? Look at verses 41-42. “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” When we call a person’s name twice, it means we really want to get him or her, usually her, to listen when they are really busy talking. Jesus was not angry at Martha’s outburst. He responded to her gently. Then Jesus explained to her simply what her problem was. She risked running over others with her poor attitude. She missed the main point of Jesus’ visit. When Jesus came into her door, she should have spent time with Jesus first until she received his blessing of peace. She should have received Jesus’ word before trying to do something for Jesus. Here we learn a very important lesson.  When we want to do something for Jesus before receiving his word, we become distracted. There are too many things to do and not enough time, and our blood pressure goes up until we worry and upset with everybody. We become irritable and exploded.  

Jesus said, “...only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus commends Mary’s decision. She has chosen the one thing that counts: to sit and reflect on Jesus’ teaching and the kingdom of God. Jesus promised that what Mary received would not be taken away from her. Mary had done right. Martha should slow down and relax. The disciple should never be too busy to sit at Jesus’ feet. Here Jesus refers to the spiritual food she received. The word of God will stay with us forever. No one can take away the word of God from us. How many things are needed to serve Jesus? Only one thing is needed. What is that one thing? This is to listen to the word of Jesus. We don’t need many things. We need only one thing. It is to study the word of God personally. We need Jesus. When we have Jesus, everything is okay. What was the most popular program for our conference? Was it a drama, dancing, game show, or food? It was the word of God. I had a small hope like a dot before the conference. But the word of God opened my heart and my hope became bigger. Therefore, Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We must remember that only one thing is needed. It is Jesus himself. When we have Jesus we have everything. When we thought about Jesus’ training for his disciples, Jesus seemed to do many things to them. But Jesus knew that one thing they needed most was the word of life. On one occasion, many disciples deserted Jesus because he challenged them to eat the spiritual food, the bread of life from him. They complained, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Then they ran away. Jesus asked the Twelve in John 6:67, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Then Simon answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There was one thing that separated him from the crowds. It was the word of Jesus. In spite of his big-mouth character, he did one thing. He listened to the word of God. In Acts 6, the apostles were involved in food matter and were distracted. So they made decision to devote themselves to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 says, “And we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” As a result, the word of God spread and the number of disciples increases rapidly. We seem to be worried about many things. One thing is needed is to study the word of God personally and write testimonies in the fall and our ministry will grow. Prayer is one of the ways that we listen to God. God enabled me to overcome many spiritual crisis through the early morning prayers for last three years. God blessed me to listen to him humbly through the word of God and prayers.  

In conclusion, this passage highlights a major feature of discipleship: choosing our priority properly. Marta was overwhelmed with many things and was disturbed but Mary simply sat down and listened to Jesus. Mary had made the right choice according to Jesus. To listen to Jesus is our priority and the worries of life should never prevent us from eating the word of God first.  Now Jesus speaks us very personally: sit at his feet and devour his teaching by eating the daily bread daily and pray because there is no more important meal. Let’s read the key verses 41, 42