Mary and Martha of Bethany

Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus.  Their home in Bethany seemed to be one of the few places Jesus could go and truly relax.  Mary and Martha are often contrasted—Mary as the devout learner and Martha, the bustling, morose housekeeper.  This may be an unfair contrast.  The Bible tells us both sisters learned at the feet of Jesus.

There is one particular incident, however, that does point to their differing personalities.  Once while Jesus was visiting, Mary sat at His feet conversing, asking questions, deepening her knowledge of Him.  Martha, the hospitable hostess, knew there was much to do around the house and she scurried anxiously from one task to the next.  Finally, exasperated, she appealed to Jesus, “Don’t you care that Mary has left me to serve alone?  Won’t you tell her to help me?”

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha

Jesus answered gently, “Dear Martha, you are worried and frustrated over all these details.  But there is only one thing truly worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her.”

Martha appears to be the less emotional sister—the one who liked to be busy making everyone comfortable and providing for their needs. Though surely she felt deep sorrow at her brother’s death, evidently she wasn’t in tears when she met Jesus.  On the other hand, Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and wept inconsolably.

In the glimpses we have of her, two things to note about Mary are that she was an unusually quiet person and the woman was always at the feet of Christ. Mary possessed great inner depth and beauty but one had to unearth the treasure—she rarely volunteered it. The only recorded words we have from her come when she knelt at Jesus’ feet following her brother’s death.  “If you had been here,” she sobbed, “my brother would not have died.”    Mary learned at Christ’s feet, she fell at his feet in grief, and shortly before His time of crucifixion, she knelt silently at His feet and washed them with extravagantly expensive perfume.

The personalities of Martha and Mary contrasted, but the Scriptures tell us Jesus loved them both.  And both sisters cherished Jesus:  Martha with her outgoing hospitality and Mary in her silent worship, but both with complete sincerity.

What can we learn from Mary and Martha of Bethany?

Those with shy, inward personalities like Mary’s sometimes envy outgoing Christians like Martha for their numerous relationships and achievements.  And outgoing Christians wish they had the spiritual depth and contemplative insight of the introspective. Yet the church needs both.  Don’t wish that God had made you differently.  Your personality is indispensable to the kingdom of God.

Bible Verses about Mary and Martha of Bethany

Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-5, 17-32, 12:1-8

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who were Mary and Martha of Bethany in the Bible?
  • What is the Mary and Martha syndrome?
  • Is it better to be like Mary or Martha?
  • Who were Jesus’ female followers?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis