Martha, A Commentary

A Commentary on Luke 10:38-42 by Mary Elizabeth Baxter (1837-1926). 

There were times, when Jesus was going through the towns and villages with His disciples, that He parted company with them for a time. “As they went, He entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house.”

Martha was a thorough housewife. All her soul seems to have been in the hospitality which she could afford to her valued Guest. But Martha thought more of what she would like to do for Jesus than of what Jesus would like to have done for Him. She thought of what she would bestow upon Him rather than of what He desired.

There was a great deal of self in her hospitality. The truest hospitality is to interfere as little as possible with the habits and wishes of a guest. The truly hospitable housewife does not make herself or her service apparent; she does not load her table or deck out her rooms with ornaments which have to be taken care of, and fill the guest with fear lest he should break or soil everything that he touches. The Christ‐like housewife cares for her guest; not for her furniture: for his comfort, and not for her reputation as a housekeeper or manager.

There are some houses in which one feels very uncomfortable, lest one should do the wrong thing, sit in the wrong place, speak the wrong word, or do something at the wrong time. There are other houses where one feels as much at home as in one’s own house.

The Shunammite, in giving hospitality to Elisha, studied his taste; but Martha studied her own. She “was cumbered about much serving.” It was true she sought to honour Jesus. All was done for Him, but it was done in her way and not in His way. Her plans were made about the dinner irrespective of His convenience or that of Mary, and so it came to pass that she had far too much to do in the time remaining to her.

She got into a bustle and fret, and just as people do in such a condition, began to think whose fault it was. It could not be her fault; had not she been at work from early morning? had she not done everything which mortal woman could do? but that lazy Mary, who was sitting enjoying herself at Jesus’ feet, did not help at all. She wondered that Jesus should encourage her to be so selfish, when there was so much to be done.

And, boiling with indignation, she went and interrupted the Master and His disciple, and, seeing everything from her own selfish point of view, thought herself justified in doing so. “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” Martha was persuaded that hers was a righteous cause, and being so sure that she was in the right, of course her sister was in the wrong, and she implied that Jesus was in the wrong too.

An unrestful spirit can never see straight; she was unprepared for the answer: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

To one who looks at things only from an earthly point of view, Martha would seem to have reason on her side; but Jesus had come to the house, not for the sake of entertainment, good living, the comfortable room, the tastefully arranged furniture. He sought something very different-worshippers who should “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jhn 4:23), and He had found one in Mary.

He wanted appreciative hearts and quiet spirits to take in the things of the kingdom of God, and Martha’s cumbrous service was only a hindrance to Him. He would very much have preferred a cup of milk and a crust of bread to the sumptuous fare which distracted Martha from the things of His kingdom.

She met with a rebuke just when she expected Jesus to justify her wounded sense of innocence, and while she thought she had the right on her side, she had, in addition to her household cares, the rebuke of her Master: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.”

Oh, how many a bustling woman feels it is quite enough to have the dinner in danger of being late, the stockings unmended, visitors neglected, etc., without being complained of! A rebuke when she is in such a spirit is like the straw which breaks the camel’s back!

But the bustling woman must come to a stop in order to see her mistake. She cannot listen to Jesus until she learns to be still. She carries all her fever of the kitchen into the dining‐room, and sits down at table with a flurried, flushed, anxious face, not likely to help her guests; she carries the worries and frets she has had with the children into her intercourse with her husband when he comes back from work, and she finds that her moments of prayer are interrupted. She is in too much of a turmoil to realise the presence of her God.

“ONE THING IS NEEDFUL,” and the bustling woman possesses it not. It is the habit of listening to the Saviour and taking in from Him that quiet, and strength, and help, which is a power in any life. A quiet spirit with a very simple dinner will cheer the spirits, and help the appetites of, all who are present. A quiet and cheerful spirit with ever so bare and badly furnished a house, will make the visitor feel at home.

“A heart at leisure from itself,” like the heart of Jesus, brings the atmosphere of heaven wheresoever it is found.

“One thing is needful,”-it is to be one with Jesus under all circumstances; nothing else is absolutely necessary. And this is gloriously, blessedly possible for any true believer who has accepted as a personal experience the great truth of “Christ in you the hope of glory.” (Col 3:27.)

Christ in any believer is a quiet still life which listens to and obeys our God.

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42 

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