Mary and Martha
Overview of material in this Rotation:
- Bible Background
- Art: Create a symbol from clay, using “rock art” techniques (carving rock) to remind us to balance our busy lives to include time with God.
- Video: Learn about hospitality while watching the clay animation video “Martin the Cobbler.” Discuss hospitality as welcoming God into our lives. (Although other lessons posted here use this video, this lesson is included here because it is written for a DVD.)
Note: These workshops were written for 1st through 6th graders though not all grades visit all workshops.
Workshops also used, but not included here:
- Cooking: Learn about hospitality in Jesus’ day and the types of food Martha may have prepared for her guests. We used: Bohbrink, Lisa. “Cooking Workshop: Martha's Kitchen in Bethany.” 2002. link
- Games: Play a game that demonstrates listening and choices. We used: Faith Quest Lesson Sets at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church. “Mary and Martha (Revised): Antioch Arcade.” 2005. http://www.kirkofkildaire.org/...sedAntiochArcade.htm
- Drama: Experience the story of Mary and Martha by enacting the story. We used: Faith Quest Lesson Sets at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church. “Mary and Martha (Revised): Apostle’s Playhouse.” 2005. http://www.kirkofkildaire.org/...postlesPlayhouse.htm
“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10a (NIV)
Rotation Objectives--at the end of the Rotation, kids should be able to:
- Know the first four books in the New Testament – the Gospels.
- Find the story in their Bible (3rd grade and up)
- Recall the events of the story and restate them in their own words
- Learn about home life in Bible times and the meaning and importance of hospitality
- Understand the importance of taking time to sit at God’s feet – to listen to God’s Word
- Discuss ways to balance our busy lives so as to make time to be with God
We all lead busy lives. Even children have full schedules! What is one to do when faced with a list of numerous “good” activities? We place certain pursuits higher on the to-do list, while others wait in the wings. It’s a tricky process often requiring last minute juggling. The story of Mary and Martha speaks to this balancing act and urges us to be sure to include one critical item: spend time with God.
This story is found in the book of Luke. Mary and Martha are mentioned (along with their brother Lazarus) in two other places in the Gospels: John 11:1-44, and John 12:1-11. It is John’s Gospel that identifies Mary and Martha’s village as Bethany. From John we also learn of the close relationship between Jesus and this family: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) (A separate Rotation will cover Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.)
Bethany is about two miles from Jerusalem at the eastern edge of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and thus stopped to visit their friends. We don’t know how many people descended on Martha’s home, at least 13, perhaps more since many people were following Jesus.
During Jesus’ visit, preparations were underway for the Feast of the Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot . This festival lasted seven days and was a time of great joy and thanksgiving. All men who lived within a 15-mile radius of Jerusalem were required to come to celebrate. With its close proximity to Jerusalem, Bethany turned into a very busy place – sort of like a UM game Saturday in Ann Arbor. Sukkot celebrated the harvest and reminded the Jewish people of the wanderings of their ancestors in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Sukkot is still observed by Jews today. Most recently it occurred between October 17th and 24th, 2005.
First century Jewish home life:
Examining this story gives us an opportunity to briefly look at the everyday life of Jewish homes and women in particular. Women were responsible for many jobs including drawing water, grinding grain, making tents, taking care of guests, making clothes and in general managing the affairs of the household. Wealthy women often used slaves to help out with these tasks. Since no work could be done on the Sabbath, the day before was filled with frantic activity. Feasts and special occasions required even more preparations!
Women were responsible for preparing food for their families. Bread was a staple in the Jewish home. The first task in the morning was baking bread, which began with grinding grain. In addition to bread, the Near Eastern diet included simple items such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, honey, goat’s milk, cheese and occasionally meat and fish.
Back to the story – characters & feelings:
Who are these two women? Martha bustles about cleaning, cooking and preparing for the guests. The Bible tells us she “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (Luke 10:40) The original Greek word for Martha’s actions, perispao, is to be “over-occupied about a thing, drawn away.” Another meaning of the word is “to drag all around.” Can’t you see Martha dragging all her expectations around behind her, weighing her down?
In contrast with Martha’s pragmatic and busy nature, Mary was the more contemplative sister. She was more interested in absorbing every word that Jesus spoke. Her choice was also radical; to sit at the feet of Jesus broke with Jewish tradition. When rabbis taught, they sat down with their disciples sitting at their feet – their disciples being all men. Some rabbis considered it sinful to teach women the Law. Jesus, of course, turned all of these traditions upside down, for not only did he speak to women and take their hands, he welcomed them to join his band of followers.
Martha is obviously not happy with Mary’s choice, especially since she feels over-burdened with all the work. Finally, Martha can stand it no longer! It just isn’t fair. She marches in and confronts Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care? … Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40b,c)
A better choice?
Imagine Martha’s interrupting outburst stopping all conversation in the room! Listen to Jesus’ response:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In the literature of the times, calling a name twice signified intimacy. Jesus is rebuking Martha but also reaching out to gently instruct her. But what is Jesus saying?
- Is Jesus saying preparing meals isn’t important?
- Is he hinting that a simpler approach would have been fine?
- Was Martha’s work not appreciated? (She was, after all, doing all this for Jesus!)
- Is Jesus suggesting that active service should be completely replaced with thoughtful mediation?
What Jesus is attempting to teach Martha (and us!) is this: it is important to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. Jesus is not condemning Martha’s activities so much as he is commending Mary’s. Martha’s choice is not bad. The distinction is between something that is good and something that is better.
Can you see yourself in this story? Can you easily identify with Martha, full of busyness, troubled by distractions? Do you long to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, absorbing and learning? Luckily there is more to this story than identifying with the characters. “This is a story of two different responses to one singular occasion. In it, we should find not our personality type, but the kind of heart Christ longs for us to have. A heart centered in him alone.” (Weaver, 101) What Jesus wants is for us to make the better choice.
It’s important to note that each sister wanted to serve Jesus. Jesus’ rebuke of Martha was not to say that it was not important to serve others. Indeed, this story immediately follows that of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus taught the importance of serving one’s neighbor. Jesus wants us to know that no amount of busy-ness of life is more important than the most important thing: taking time for God! “The Kingdom of God is a paradox… the world clamors for us to do more, be more. But God whispers to us ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” (Weaver, 9)
Admittedly, this takes a balancing act – one that is often not easy. How do we take time to sit at Jesus’ feet? This will be explored further with the children as well as why it is so important to do so. Jesus is inviting us to share a close, personal relationship with him. The only real requirement is to show up with an open heart, ready to receive. Christ wants to spend time with us.
The rest of the story?
How did Martha respond to Jesus’ rebuke? Did she slink off and sulk in the kitchen? Did she stamp her foot and shout back at Jesus? We don’t know, because the scripture ends with Jesus’ words. We can surmise however, based on her transformation later on, that Martha indeed had a teachable spirit. The Martha we see later in John’s gospel is no longer harried and resentful, but full of faith and trust. When her brother Lazarus dies and is in the tomb for four days, Martha leaves her household and rushes out to meet Jesus. Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26) And Martha replies with great faith and trust, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
- Baird, William. The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible: Luke. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971.
- Bock, Darrell L. “Luke.” Volume 3,The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
- Brownrigg, Ronald. Who’s Who in the Bible. NY: Bonanza Books, 1980.
- Butler, Trent C. Editor. “Entry for Hospitality.” Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991. https://www.studylight.org/dic...d/h/hospitality.html
- Deffinbaugh, Robert L. “When Martha was Mad at the Master.” 2005. https://bible.org/seriespage/3...-master-luke-1038-42
- G.R.E.A.T. Adventure Dream Team at State Street United Methodist Church, Bristol, VA. “Mary and Martha – Finding the Balance!” 2002. (Obtained from Jaymie Derden- Overview & Background Information)
- Rich, Tracey R. “Judaism 101: Sukkot.” 2005. http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm
- Weaver, Joanna. Having A Mary Heart in A Martha World. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2002.
First United Methodist Church
120 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Copyright 2005 First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material
A representative of Rotation.org reformatted this post to improve readability.