Blake, William, 1757-1827. Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved July 14, 2022]. Original source:

RCL Year C Proper 11 Alternate Readings
Genesis 18:1-10a, Psalm 15, Colossians 1:15-28, Saint Luke 10:38-42

Mary and Martha—the scene is not hard to imagine. Mary sits “at the Lord’s feet and [listens] to what he [says].[1] Martha is “distracted by her many tasks,”[2] and brings her complaint about Mary not to Mary but to Jesus. She creates a triangle that will further destabilize her relationship to Mary. But Martha gives Jesus the opportunity to give the only significantly theological remark in the passage: “there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”[3]

Through the centuries, Christians have understood the conflict between Martha and Mary to concern two states of life, the active life and the contemplative life. And the Lord Jesus has told us that the contemplative life, in some amount, is needed by us all. We all need to learn the will of God and to comply with it. Martha seems not to know this for herself, giving Jesus the opportunity to say it to her and to us.

We all want to live balanced lives, enough sleep, enough exercise, and enough food that is good for us; not too much food that is bad for us and not too much drink. But we all need to sit at the Lord’s feet, to become his disciple, to allow his good influence to lead us through this life so that we shall attain to the next.

Mary seems to know this. Martha seems to allow necessary tasks to keep her from sitting at the Lord’s feet, from learning from him, and from learning that her problem is not so much with Mary as it is with her approach to living. I know this firsthand. Through my years of priesthood, I can tell you how much easier it is to do the mechanical things, the routine things, than it is to grapple with the meaning of a Gospel and to prepare a sermon that, I hope, in the words of the Epistle, makes “the word of God fully known.”[4] And I have discovered that the calling I am trying to answer is to do both.

We all need some of Mary and some of Martha in our lives if we wish to live balanced lives, if we wish to work out our salvation, and if we wish to become fully what God intends us to be. We all know if we are a little more like Martha or a little more like Mary. The calling we all have is not only to put our best foot forward but to walk with both feet.

[1] Saint Luke 10:39.

[2] Saint Luke 10:40.

[3] Saint Luke 10:42.

[4] Colossians 1:25.