Luke 10:38-42 – Jesus with Martha and Mary


Luke 10:38-42


While visiting two sisters, Jesus praises the one who listens to what he says but admonishes the worry and distraction of the other.


This story is often interpreted to strike a contrast between two types of behavior, as if Jesus praises discipleship and passive learning while criticizing active service. Some have taken the passage to assert the superiority of the contemplative life over the active life. Some have taken it to assert the superiority of receiving Jesus over obligatory behavior. Such readings, however, entirely miss the point.

The main focus of the story is the encounter between Jesus and Martha. Martha is described as distracted and worried. That state of mind prompts her to accuse her sister of abandoning her and leads her to try to use Jesus to satisfy her demands. Jesus does not admonish Martha for the kind of service and hospitality she offers. Indeed, elsewhere in Luke-Acts service of the kind she is performing is strongly praised. He cites, instead, Martha’s anxiety. Her desire to serve is laudable; her worry is not, for anxiety causes service to take its focus off of the guest and become jealous. Both of the women in this scene participate in activities that are consistent with Christian discipleship. What Jesus insists is that any expressions of discipleship should focus on Jesus himself.