Priorities: What We Can Learn from Martha’s Hospitality Fail

“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’”–Luke 10:41-42, NLT

If you’ve ever thrown a party or hosted a special dinner in your own home, then you can probably relate to Martha’s worries. As soon as the invitations go out, the pressure is on to create for our guests a warm, inviting atmosphere, pleasant conversation, and of course, a delicious meal that they’ll be raving about for days.  However, I would venture to guess that none of us has experienced the stress levels that must have overwhelmed Martha as she swept, scrubbed, mopped and chopped for the King of Kings!

It’s understandable that she was “upset over all these details”; she was serving Jesus, after all. So why did the Lord rebuke Martha just for trying to be like Martha Stewart? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Martha is an example of what can easily happen to us if we focus more on doing than loving. You see, her desire to please had become so overpowering that it soon overshadowed her ability to enjoy her guests and embrace the blessing of their company. Her drive to be hospitable had, ironically, driven her to be quite the opposite as she accused Jesus of not caring about her while simultaneously tattling on her sister Mary:

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” –Luke 10:40, NASB

Mary in Jesus' Presence

Martha probably had no intention of letting this get-together become a fretful, stress-inducing situation. It’s doubtful she’d formulated a pre-meditated plan to embarrass or shame her sister in Jesus’ presence. And I can imagine she wanted to kick herself with the foot she’d stuck in her mouth when she asked Jesus, healer of leprosy and opener of blind eyes, if He cared that she was serving Him solo. But what started out as a good-hearted act of kindness ended as a valuable lesson about priorities.

Notice that Jesus admonished Martha not for serving, but for being worried and upset about serving. The Greek word used for Martha’s “worry” and “upset” can be translated as “be anxious about” and “troubled in mind,” respectively.[1] Martha’s preoccupation with being a perfect hostess had stolen the joy of simply being in Jesus’ presence.

What insight this story holds for us today! In addition to the jobs, chores, and distractions of daily life, we also have myriad commitments that require our attention. These commitments are good, in and of themselves; indeed, many people have responsibilities to organize, serve, manage, and volunteer within the body of Christ. But even in godly pursuits we can find ourselves anxious and “troubled in mind.”

In all of our doing and helping, all of our planning and preparing, there is always just one thing we should be most concerned about. Mary, Jesus said, knew what it was…His presence!

As you go about your day today, be careful not to let the doing for others supersede the loving of others. Don’t let time spent on noble tasks replace time spent with Jesus. And if you feel yourself becoming anxious, return to His feet and discover, as Mary did, the pricelessness of His presence.


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[1] (accessed January 24, 2014)


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