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Martha and Mary in the Bible: Lessons We Learn From the Sisters

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

Martha complaining because Mary wasn't helping her with preparations.

Martha complaining because Mary wasn't helping her with preparations.

In high school, you probably studied David Copperfield’s book, A Tale of Two Cities. You might have seen the movie Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg. There is a television program called Sister, Sister starring twin girls, Tamera Mowry-Housley and Tia Mowry-Hardrict. If those things don't bring back memories, perhaps you know about the sister tennis pros, Venus and Serena Williams who often compete against each other.

This article is about two sisters in the Bible who seem to be quite the opposite of each other.

Both Sisters

We learn a lot about Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 when Jesus visited them. Martha and Mary also had a brother named Lazarus. All three of them were close friends of Jesus. The text says the two sisters lived together in Martha's house in Bethany. So, it is reasonable to assume that Martha was the older sister. Most of the time, when you read about one in the scriptures, Martha's name is recorded first.

Both sisters loved Jesus, and they wanted to please Him in their own special way. However, both sisters were serving Him differently. Martha’s service was for Jesus, but it was done away from Jesus and He wasn't involved. Martha was running around preparing for Jesus. Mary paid attention to Jesus while she sat quietly and listened to Him.

As Martha prepared for Jesus’ human needs. Mary sat at Jesus' feet responding to her own spiritual needs.

Because they lived in the same house, the sisters were probably very close even though they had very different personalities.

All About Martha

Martha appeared to have been the older one and in charge of the preparations. She had the gift of hospitality. However, she was overdoing it. Jesus said she was worried and upset about many things while only one thing was needed, and Mary was doing that.

What can we learn from Martha?
Martha is our model for serving others, but we should not shut Jesus out. We should be able to work and worship. We don’t want to be so busy that we do not focus on God.

Martha comes off as being a complainer and bossy. She complained about Mary not helping her, but Mary didn’t respond. Instead, Jesus spoke on Mary's behalf.

In John 11:21 while Lazarus lay sick, Martha sent for Jesus to come to help him. However, Jesus did not go right away. Jesus arrived in Bethany four days after Martha's brother had died. When Martha saw Jesus coming, she went out to meet him and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." It sounded like a complaint and a rebuke.

Martha was a worker.

Mary was a worshiper.

All About Mary

Mary had the gift of listening and being still. While her sister was a worker, Mary was a worshipper.

What does Mary teach us?
In this busy and sometimes chaotic world, Mary calls us to stop what we are doing, sit with Jesus, and listen to what He has to say, according to In Luke 10:38-42.

In John 12:3-8, Mary was the one who took a pound of very costly ointment of spikenard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. When Judas Iscariot complained, Jesus responded for Mary again and told his disciple to "Leave her alone."


There is some Martha in all of us. Those are the ones who love hospitality and preparing special things for their guests. There is some Mary in all of us. Those are the ones who love spending time and relaxing with their guests. Nothing is wrong with either action especially when there is a balance. The actions of Martha and Mary were valuable and both served a purpose.

We live in a busy world and we are involved with many things like Martha. Jesus said Mary chose the better part by sitting at His feet. That means shifting from doing into being. It means talking to Jesus and listening to what He has to say.

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