Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
In this passage, Mary is seen sitting and Martha is busy serving. Perhaps the lesson is, don’t get so busy serving and just enjoy Jesus. But Mary is not just sitting. She is having more than esoteric, spiritual experience by staring at Jesus. Mary is listening. In the Greek, this is clear as the main verb is “listened” and Mary’s sitting is simply describing the way she listened. Mary comes to Jesus in humility, needing to be taught, needing to hear His Word and His truth and not her own.
Again, Martha is “distracted with much serving.” We might imagine we are left with two choices: either listen at Jesus’s feet or serve. But then this passage is preceded by another in which Jesus sends out 72 disciples to serve and do ministry as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan who loves and serves his neighbor. So Jesus is not speaking against serving. Martha is distracted for another reason.
See, Martha is annoyed at Mary for not helping her. She is also annoyed at Jesus for not telling Mary to get up and help her. Martha assumes she knows what is good and right. She is distracted and consumed not with serving but with her serving, with the service she has chosen for herself.
Martha is focused on serving the Lord her way and it isn’t going well. Mary is an obstacle to Martha’s goal and in a funny way, so is Jesus.
It is easy to imagine that we know how life and even faith work. We have everything figured out and the problem is simply living it out, but this is not true. According to the Bible, we do not know what is good and right. We do not know what love or blessing are. We do not know how to live and we need God to teach us.
With great tenderness, Jesus addresses Martha’s anxious and troubled heart. He is telling her that she misunderstands her need. Martha, like all of us, need to hear Jesus speak. While it may be temporarily pleasing to hear Jesus say what we want to hear and tell us how we were right all along, what we really need is to let Him say whatever He wants to say and humbly receive His Word. For it is not flattery or sentiment but the truth that will set us free.