Mary and Martha. These two sisters with very different personalities starred in some of the most
important episodes in the gospels. Their contrasting priorities were showcased in Luke 10:38-42 when Mary sat and listened to Jesus while Martha worked away in the kitchen for all the guests. It was their brother Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. They were also present at the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. If any two sisters were opposites, these are they!
This is how they were introduced to us in the Gospel of Luke:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)
In the reading above, it appeared as if Martha got chastised by Jesus for working while her sister sat and listened at Jesus’ feet. As I read the story it brought to mind the old adage, “‘tis better to give than to receive.”
If this adage were always true, Mary should have been the one rebuffed by Jesus. She wasn’t giving anything or doing anything for anybody except for herself. Yet, she was commended for sitting around and doing nothing?!? Apparently, it isn’t always better to give than receive.
According to Jesus, it is better to receive when it comes to our relationship with God. The gifts He gives are the “good portion.” Our gifts given to Him in faith are good and God-pleasing, but they pale in comparison to the gifts He gives us. He is after all the One who created us and sustains us in our earthly life. He gave up His life on the cross before anyone reading this blog was ever born or could do anything for Him. By His suffering and dying, He opened heaven’s gates to us. By pouring His love into our hearts by His Spirit, he has led us to love and trust in Him and love our neighbors as ourselves. In short, it is better to receive when it comes to our relationship with God than it is to give.
But the old adage is true when it comes to our relationship with other people. As we learned from the Good Samaritan last week, we are called to do for others what God has done for us. We are called to lift up the afflicted, cleanse the wounds of the broken, heal the wounded and care for needy neighbors whom God puts in our path. ‘Tis truly better to give than to receive when it comes to our earthly relationships with other human beings.
On this point, Martha is the example to follow. Tis better to give than to receive may very well have been her motto. She certainly led a life of service and deserves to be respected for doing so.
My prayer for us is that we embrace Mary’s appreciation for God’s gifts along with Martha’s work ethic when it comes to serving our neighbors. It takes both for Christians to be the greatest possible blessing to others. Mary is commended for having her priorities straight, while Martha is the gracious hostess whose hard work made it possible for all the others to be physically and spiritually fed by Christ.
Acknowledging that it is always better to receive from God and always better to give to the neighbor, Christians who “get it” make the earth a better place for us all. Prepared for eternity, their time is well spent on earth. What a wonderful opportunity for joyful living this affords us—God makes us both the blessed and a blessing!