The Season after Pentecost: Proper 11, Year C

Martha-&-MaryTo “Do” and To “Act”

  • Amos 8:1-12
  • Psalm 52
  • Colossians 1:15-28
  • Luke 10:38-42

In today’s Gospel reading, an occasion of hospitality sets the context for teaching on the balance between doing and reflecting. After Jesus’ exchange with the lawyer last week (Luke 10:25-37), he and his disciples continue on their way to a village, where Jesus is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha.

While Martha was occupied with providing hospitality for her guest, her sister Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying” (v. 39). Exasperated by the lack of assistance from her sister, Martha complained to Jesus that Mary had left her to do all the work by herself. Jesus replied that Martha is “worried and distracted by many things” (v. 41), while only one thing is truly needed. In this, “Mary has chosen the better part” (v. 42).

This incident is unique to Luke, although the sisters Mary and Martha may the same women mentioned in the Gospel of John (11:1-20; 12:1-8). The story has often been interpreted in a variety of ways, often to illustrate the tension between the contemplative life (Mary) and the active life (Martha) – faith verses works. Jesus approves Mary’s non-traditional choice (women were normally expected to do the housework) and encourages Martha to wet aside the traditional woman’s role in favor of taking time to listen. It is also often pointed out that Jesus ignored contemporary social taboos here by allowing a woman to sit at his feet as a learner.

For men and women, true servanthood (doing) is rooted in quiet attentiveness to Jesus’ teaching.

For reflection:

  • Read the Gospel passage and imagine that you are Martha. Read it again and put yourself in Mary’s place. What different thoughts and feelings do you experience from the perspective of these two women?
  • With which of these sisters do you identify more easily? What do you think the relationship between these two women might have been before Jesus arrived? After?
  • What are some of the duties and responsibilities that prevent you from listening to the message of Jesus? What can you do to minimize these distractions?
  • Refer to John 11:1-44 and John 12:1-7. What else do we learn about Martha and Mary from these passages? How do they serve as models of discipleship for us today?
  • What are some ways to simplify our lives so we can focus on the “one thing” that is needful?

Image: “Martha and Mary” by He Qi

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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