Mary Christians and Martha Christians

Once upon a time a woman called Mary lived with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus in a small town close to Jerusalem called Bethany.

A famous and very gifted rabbi became one of their close friends, and stopped in to see them whenever his travels took him past Bethany. 

During one of these visits, Martha became upset with Mary. She came to the Rabbi, and told him, “I’m busy making supper and getting everything ready for the company that will surely come since you are here. But Mary won’t help me. She just sits in here and listens to you and Lazarus talking!”

The rabbi listened to Martha’s outburst patiently, and smile sympathetically. “Martha,” he replied gently, “You are a very busy person. You want everything to be just so so when I come. And that is an honor that I appreciate.”

He paused. “But Mary has honored me even more. She has actually listened to what I am teaching. She wants to learn from me how to be like me.”

“What I have to offer you is more important than what you have to offer me. A simple supper would be fine. You could join Mary and learn what she is learning.”

This was hard for Martha to understand because she had been raised to believe that what she was doing was very important. Only when the work was done, if it ever was, was it proper to relax. She had been sure that the rabbi would rebuke Mary for shirking her duty. 

I was thinking of this little account recently and the parallels that it has for many areas in our lives. We are surrounded with Martha Christians. These Christians are driven with the need to be active, to be working, to be doing many things for God and for their fellow man. They are so busy with their activities that they have no time, or little time for prayer meeting, or for studying their Bibles. 

They are very useful people. Surely the church bills would never be paid but for them.

Similarly, there are others who are very busy in keeping the church pure. They search out clothing that might be immodest. They remind people to paint their cars if the color seems to worldly. They notice if their brother’s hair becomes a bit too long, or if his trousers are too light colored. They see every tight fitting dress, or bright colored dress worn to church. They calculate whether the flowers on those same dresses are an eighth of an inch wider than they should be. 

They too are very useful people. Surely the church would soon apostatize but for their tireless efforts. 

But most churches have a few people – often a very few – who are Mary Christians. They are often belittled by the Martha Christians, because they seem to get so little accomplished that is of any worth. Often they don’t get paid well. They aren’t in the forefront of the fundraising efforts, or even the evangelistic efforts. Often you will see them in the background, quietly talking with someone who is discouraged or needs encouragement. You may see them sitting with a far away look in their eyes, or reading a book. 

These people, though many of us do not realize it, are more useful than all the others put together. They are the ones who sit at Jesus’ feet. They learn of Him who to have and live the mind of Jesus. It is their prayers that hold the church together. 

They probably don’t notice the little deviations in their brother’s life. They will be the first there to help to restore a brother who falls into sin, but they don’t criticize and belittle those who need to grow. They just encourage them. 

Much more could be said, but I think you understand. However, I have a question for you. Are you a Mary Christian, or a Martha Christian? 

I think the distinction is very important. It is the Martha’s that divide churches. The Mary’s hold them together. 

Be a Mary.

About Lester Bauman

Free lance writer and editor. Author of a dozen books, husband of one wife, father of six, grandpa of ten.
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