The Big Thing

Luke 10:38-42

Mary was a slacker.

There. I said it.

Mary was a slacker and an underachiever and lacked ambition.

Oh, I know — don’t I know — that in side-by-side comparisons, it would be Martha who was found wanting. Martha, who planned and prepared and executed with perfection — He would peer straight through Martha’s heart and say, Your sister has chosen the better thing.

But Martha understood the importance of the Rabbi’s visit that day. She knew the social mores. She sensed as though instinctively the need to honor their guest with a proper meal, in a properly prepared home. This was a really big thing.

And she was the one that got that. 

Mary, she was  the one you’d find lying on her belly in the grass, picking daisies when there was the wash to do. Always talking about light and color and the moment.

Mary was all about the wonder.

And she never got a thing done.


Mary would no sooner start grinding flour before she was off, leaving the work undone while she ran to the field just to feel the moist soil between her fingers. How she’d carry on about this one kernel of wheat and how the plant came up from the ground all on its own, and Oh, isn’t it just amazing?

Martha, left standing at the door, would finish her own work, then clean up Mary’s mess, shaking her head all the while.

She worried about Mary. What man would want her? Martha had to finish everything Mary ever started. The meals, the housework — all of it. Would she have to go along with Mary even to the marriage bed?


By the time the Teacher came to their home that night, Martha was a wreck. She’d finally sent Mary outside, unable to get her to focus for just ten seconds at time. She’d take just a stroke or two with the  broom, then start to twirl around with it like a slender dance partner, then get all caught up in the flow of her robes as the air sent them billowing wild. Now, with all the work to do herself, she wasn’t done.

She wasn’t ready.

He was there in her house — Jesus was right there! — and she wasn’t ready.

She was going to miss her chance to do the really big thing.

And where was Mary?

Just sitting there.

Well, at least she didn’t bring out another bottle of costly perfume they’d worked so hard for and dump it all over Him again. Martha understood the disciples’ outrage that night, counting money in the currency of what we can accomplish.

Even now, her stomach tightened, the breeze of her memory carrying the scent of utter waste.

But Mary just sat there, eyes locked on Him, this time wasting only precious time.


Every swoosh of the dust cloth and chop of the knife only enraged her more. She had to do something about this sister of hers, this slacker. Jesus had to know how hard she was working, how much of herself she’d spent to do the really big thing for Him.

If He only knew, He’d never permit her to just lounge around like that.

She had to wonder sometimes. Mary was such deep thinker, always pondering one thing or another. And so gregarious. If she wasn’t out twirling around, lost in the mystery of something useless, she was surrounded by her friends. Just this morning Martha was halfway home from the market before she realized Mary was gone.

She found her back at the door of a shop, deep in conversation with someone she’d never met!

Didn’t she know the Kingdom was all about action? It was a place for movers and shakers and people who knew how to get things done. Would she never get serious and find her place there?

What Martha knew was this: God had something really big for Mary to do. Huge.

She would move mountains and change the world.

Martha just knew it.

But first, she had to get up and get moving. And she might just as well start now.

So, hands still dripping from the dishwater, Martha snatched the towel and stomped out to the courtyard to demand the Teacher make something of this daydreamer.

She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42, NLT)


Replaying this one from the archives while I work through some Mary-Martha tension of my own, splitting the “big” thing from the “great thing.” More on that to come, I imagine. 

Reference: Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-5, John 11:27-32

Photo: stopping roadside to pull a "Mary,"
near Big Stone Lake, Ortonville, MN

Linking with Michelle today.
Use it on Monday

28 responses

  1. It makes you wonder how well they got along, two older sisters living together with their differences. Mary struggled with the social mores of her day, and I don’t think they’ve changed much, with Christianity, our churches prioritizing ministering over prayer. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that deep down, we just don’t understand how grace is enough. Or, maybe it’s love–we want to “do” for our Jesus to show that love, not understanding that relationship is the best way to show it.

    2011/10/16 at 9:00 PM

    • We all show that love in different ways, don’t we? Mary and Martha give us a picture of both.

      (Hadn’t thought about how they actually got along all those years… I’ll bet they fought and loved both.)

      2011/10/16 at 9:49 PM

  2. I’m not sure you meant this to be funny, but I found myself laughing throughout. Your description of me is spot on, and I’m not saying which one. =)

    Without doing a complete word study, my thinking (because you asked for it just a few lines above this…) is that both of these women are designed by, absolutely loved by, and very necessary in the kingdom. Wasn’t Jesus really drawing attention to the fact that Martha had become “worried and upset” (about the fairness and value/credit for her work)? Haven’t we all felt stressed and nervous when we are preparing for guests?

    Mary was at peace in her being. Martha was not at peace in her doing. Maybe at first she was but, how do we keep our work ethic/attitudes at peace in those moments we are laboring for Christ? Looking forward to your eventual insights.
    Love, Sister Mary Pat

    2011/10/16 at 9:45 PM

    • Ding ding ding, Pat. “both of these women are designed by, absolutely loved by, and very necessary in the kingdom.” I love that. They were, both, all of that.

      I don’t hear Jesus saying to either one, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” though I think that’s where we go a lot of the time. Mary wasn’t the better person, or even type. But in this case, she made the better choice.

      2011/10/16 at 9:58 PM

  3. Oh, yeah…LOVE this. Love the comments thus far, too. I’ve always loved this passage – and have ultimately come to believe that it’s a picture of the two sides of every one of us – the part that wants to be doing, doing and the part that yearns for more being. And Pat is spot on, Jesus very clearly loves and values both. The use of the double name (Martha, Martha…) is an endearment of that time – there is not a single harsh overtone in his gentle reproof. Centering down is so, so hard for us to do. And learning to discern what the truly ‘big thing’ is, that’s tough, too, right? Lifelong balancing act, that’s what it is. I love the follow-up story at the raising of Lazarus – with Martha running out ahead to meet with Jesus and his amazing choice to reveal to her – not to one of his male disciples – that he is the resurrection and the life. And I love her worshipful response. And I oh-so-ruefully recognize the quick, “What the heck are you thinking, Jesus? He’s been in that tomb for 4 days and he’ll be stinking to high heaven!” Right on the heels of acknowledging just exactly who Jesus is. Ah yes, how soon we forget….Sigh.

    2011/10/16 at 10:00 PM

    • That interaction between Martha and Jesus at the tomb is a favorite for so many reasons, Diana. The stinky dead guy being one of them. Martha’s faith in Jesus was rock solid — she found hope in the midst of her dark loss in the coming resurrection. But she just couldn’t get that it was not just “some day” but right now. He would have Lazarus hopping around in his death garb momentarily. I have a much easier time believing what He’s going to do “some day” too.

      And where was Mary when Martha ran out to meet Jesus that day? At home surrounded by her friends…

      2011/10/17 at 4:08 PM

  4. uncle weird

    Martha has always reminded me of the older brother in the Prodigal Son Story. Her hard work and due diligence turned out to be more about her than about the guests, more about impressing them than serving them. She was disturbed that Mary wouldn’t remember her “place” and stick to women’s work and not be so unconventional, more interested in the Lord’s teaching than His appreciation for her hospitality. Moreover she was disappointed that Jesus himself didn’t affirm her priorities. She asked Him to tell Mary that Mary should be more like her. Jesus, however affirms the greater importance of His teaching and His ministry. Like the modern day Church more interested in the details of the next fellowship dinner, or the decorations in the sanctuary or the appearance of the morning bulletin or the monthly newsletter. Not to mention the hymn selection, the power point, or the lighting and sound systems. Interestingly enough though, as Diana points out, apparently Martha was paying a lot more attention to the words of Jesus than we might think. She heard enough to know of Jesus power and compassion, and to understand his love for her and Mary and their brother. I can’t help but remember that when I was a kid, the Ladies Circle in our Church was called the Mary Martha Circle. Somewhere along the line someone realized that all the Marys of the world need to be a little more Martha and the Marthas a little more Mary.

    2011/10/16 at 11:21 PM

  5. I kinda see echoes and ripples of the Parable of the Two Lost Sons in the Mary/Martha Story.

    Neither the younger or older brother wanted the father except for what he could ‘do’ for his sons. Neither son wanted the father for solely the opportunity to be in relationship with him.

    “Martha,” said her Lord. “It’s not about having a ‘To Do List.’ It’s about relationship. That’s the main course*.”

    (*’the main course’ is from The Message.)

    And I’m not surprised to read your dealing with Mary-Martha tension. Hope it’s a festive time of nurture with a succulent main course.

    2011/10/16 at 11:25 PM

    • Funny that both Pastor Daves would point out the parallel with the older/younger brother…

      2011/10/17 at 4:09 PM

      • DAD

        Both of them probably have brothers that gives them a special perspective.


        2011/10/17 at 4:38 PM

  6. I struggle to duct-tape my Martha to the cellar wall, sometimes.

    Your photo caption inspires me:
    Photo: stopping roadside to pull a “Mary,”
    near Big Stone Lake, Ortonville, MN

    I’m going to remember to pull a “Mary” more often. Thank you.

    2011/10/17 at 9:15 AM

    • Remind me, Sheila, to stay clear of your cellar. Finding old Martha strapped to the wall might unnerve me more than a little. 😉

      2011/10/17 at 4:09 PM

  7. Can I just tell you, this is really good–writing-wise.

    2011/10/17 at 5:16 PM

  8. OK, Megan… I agree with you whole heartedly and thought to myself just last night, that I had failed to mention that. I think that’s precisely why I had found humor in this … because of the way Lyla wrote it… her subtle nuances I found slightly sarcastic… in a good way. I heard your voice and it was delightful.

    Mary, she was the one you’d find lying on her belly in the grass, picking daisies when there was the wash to do. Always talking about light and color and the moment.


    just to feel the moist soil between her fingers. How she’d carry on about this one kernel of wheat and how the plant came up from the ground all on its own, and Oh, isn’t it just amazing?

    You had me guffawing right out loud, Lyla… yes, you did.

    p.s. I think it would be fun to meet Sheila … she seems like a wonderful woman. I might need to tell her about a certain cellar we found that she could trap her Martha in occasionally. =) Love to you this beautiful day, Lyla.

    2011/10/17 at 6:10 PM

    • If I can join in here and play along, my favorite was the picture of Martha on Mary’s honeymoon night. Well, not really that picture. You know what I mean.

      2011/10/17 at 6:17 PM

      • I meant to mention that one and forgot – consider it mentioned with a gold star – funny, perceptive, picturesque….well, maybe not literally…

        2011/10/17 at 7:08 PM

        • Well, and I shouldn’t be laughing at my own jokes, I suppose. Not too terribly humble of me. 😉

          2011/10/17 at 8:51 PM

  9. BAhahahaha! See? That’s exactly what I mean! That was a good one. Poor Mary… according to your text, Mary had ADD (Always Doing Diddily) before it was a real diagnosis.

    2011/10/17 at 6:37 PM

  10. I am just sitting here enjoying this wonderful, witty, wise conversation. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Martha. It’s hard to swallow such a huge mouthful of humble pie.

    2011/10/17 at 8:05 PM

    • I think that too, sometimes, Linda. Martha kind of takes it in the teeth here. But I really like how Diana draws out Jesus’ affection for Martha in the text here too. Jesus didn’t pick on her like I would (actually, of course, I’m picking more on Mary and all her lollygagging around). He just gently reminded her of the thing that mattered most — being with him.

      2011/10/17 at 8:53 PM

  11. Thank you, Lyla. Reading this was the perfect start to my work filled day.

    2011/10/18 at 6:56 AM

  12. Susan DiMickele

    I love these two women. And just when I think I’ve got them figured out, you raise (or maybe He raises) a new twist.

    Thanks Lyla. And thanks for visiting!

    2011/10/18 at 5:06 PM

  13. First of all, what in the world are you doing in the insurance claims business when you can write like this; and second of all, I can’t believe I get to be friends with you. Both the post and the comments that follow are causing me to call into question my assumptions about a story I thought I knew inside and out. We need both. God created both. Each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses; God works through both.

    So much truth and beauty here.

    2011/10/18 at 6:02 PM

  14. Loving this story and the dialogue. If I didn’t have so many chores to do I’d stay awhile!

    2011/10/18 at 9:45 PM

  15. to rest and listen…or to worry and fret.
    when i get into the fret mode, it takes awhile to get into the rest and listen mode.

    2011/10/18 at 11:36 PM

  16. Yeah. What Nancy said. Except you write so beautifully about your work, too.

    I’m slacking off right now, lost in the moment of that photo.

    2011/10/22 at 6:57 AM

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