The Good Samaritan is renowned for his righteous and self-less behavior toward the man on the side of the road. Martha was condemned by Jesus for “trying to do the right thing.” Mary was praised for “doing nothing.” What’s the deal? These are important theological lessons and should be reflected upon at length.
A few questions come up that should be addressed.
What was Martha’s error? Ensuring that a guest, particularly the Creator of the Universe (not that we know if Martha knew or believed this at this point in the story) is fed and given a comfortable place to sit is not a sin. Martha is carrying out her calling as a follower of Christ: to love her neighbor, in this case Jesus himself, as herself.
You’ve heard it said, “There’s a right time for everything.” There’s even a Scripture passage about this which you probably know: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1. That passage goes on to list some of those specific times. Verses 6 and 7 are applicable to Martha, “A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;…”
Why the harsh words from Jesus to Martha? Jesus reminds Martha that though there are many good things we could be doing, their is a right time to do all things. Unfortunately, with limited understanding and perspective we are helpless to know those right times and places for our choices.
What should I learn from this passage? Learn to take confidence in the Words of Jesus and not your good works. Yes, it’s frustrating when our best laid plans turn to nothing in front of us, when our choices, made with deliberation and good intentions fall flat, but it’s also the cost of being a follower of Christ. Judging our status before Christ based on our ability to love Christ will always fall flat; we can never love him or our neighbor perfectly. Learn from Mary: when Jesus was present, so was she.