The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is one of those accounts from the life of Jesus that is in danger of becoming cliché. And it will become that if we fail to see the true hero of the story.
Luke sets up a contrast between two sisters: Mary and Martha. Jesus has come to visit, and he has brought a crowd with him. Martha is likely the older sister here and the owner of the home. The responsibility of hospitality has fallen to her, and as Jesus teaches, she rushes around to prepare food and to keep her guests full and fed. She undoubtedly believed she would be able to count on her sister Mary to help her. But instead of helping, Mary just sits at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning. A sharp conflict arises.
Luke tells us that Martha has become distracted by much serving. We would probably say that Mary is the distracted one; she has been distracted from helping her sister show hospitality. But no, it’s Martha who is distracted. She complains to Jesus and asks him to intervene, to command Mary to help. Jesus, full of love and compassion, replies, “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” (vv. 41-42). And so we learn that we are to be like Mary in a Martha world, people who prioritize spending time with Jesus instead of allowing the cares of life to overwhelm us. Mary is the hero.
Or is she? In all our talk of the atoning death of Jesus, we need to guard ourselves against losing the wonder of the fact that God himself, the second person of the Trinity, came in human flesh; that the One who created the world took on a human nature and entered our world as a baby who needed to be cared for like any other human infant; that as a man born under the law, he obeyed his mother and father; that as a man he had to grow in wisdom and understanding; that as the incarnate Jesus and true man he really walked from place to place, that he got blisters on his feet, that he got tired and hungry, that he needed hospitality.
Charles Wesley wrote a powerful hymn to proclaim the wonder of God made man.
Let earth and Heav’n combine, angels and men agree
To praise in songs divine, Th’ incarnate deity
Our God contracted to a span, Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.
Do you see the great love of God, that Jesus Christ, God immortal, God eternal, would become a man so that he could be like us, so he could be one of us, so he could save us? When we see Jesus sitting in Martha’s home, we see the true hero of the story.