Passage: Luke 10:38-42

I. Observation

   A. I have read Luke 10:38-42 in both a formal translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, or CSB)

and a functional translation (NIV, NLT, or NCV). Highlight the correct answer.

(You will find a copy of the NASB, ESV, CSB, and NLT in your WORDsearch Library. I would suggest the NASB, ESV, or CSB for your formal translation and the NLT for your functional translation. These four translations are available in your WORDsearch library.)

  • Yes
  • No
  • Having read the passage in both formal and functional translation, list at least 2 similarities and 3 differences between the way both translations cover this story. You may list as many similarities and differences that you find as long as you meet the minimum amount.
  1. Similarity – Both translations note that specifically Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Mary is not mentioned until after Martha has welcomed Jesus into her home.
  • Similarity – Both translations pointedly state that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet” to listen to Jesus’ teaching.
  • Similarity – In both the ESV and NLT, Martha commands Jesus to tell Mary to assist her in serving. Martha does not tell Mary directly.
  • Similarity – Both translations recognize that the one “thing” (NLT) or “good portion” (ESV) that Mary has chosen “will not be taken away from her.” The translation is exactly the same for this specific phrase.
  • Difference – The ESV doesn’t state where Jesus and his disciples (“they” in the ESV) were traveling when they stopped in Mary and Martha’s village, but the NLT notes that they were on their way to Jerusalem.
  • Difference – The NLT says that Martha welcomes Jesus and all of his disciples into her home while the ESV translation states that Martha welcomed only Jesus into her house.
  • Difference – The ESV text recognizes that Martha was distracted with “much serving” while the NLT indicates that Martha was distracted by a big dinner that she was preparing.
  • Difference – In the ESV, Jesus tells Martha that she is “anxious” and “troubled” about “many things.” In the NLT, Jesus says that Martha is “worried” and “upset” over “all these details.” Although these words are different, they indicate that Martha is preoccupied with her service.

   C. Identify the basic elements of the story you are studying

1. Main characters: (List them)

                        Jesus, Mary, and Martha

2. Plot: (50-100 words)

Jesus and his disciples stop at a village in the midst of their travels, and a woman named Martha welcomes them into her home. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his teaching while Martha focuses on serving. Martha, thinking that it is unfair for her to work alone, commands Jesus to tell Mary to help her serve. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and anxious about serving while Mary has made a good decision by sitting at the Lord’s feet. Jesus says the “good portion” that Mary chose will not be taken away from her.

3. Story structure: (50-100 words)

Introduction: Jesus and his disciples enter a village, and a woman named Martha welcomes the men into her home.

Inciting Incident: Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to hear his teaching.

Rising Action: Martha’s service distracts her from the guests.

Climax: Martha tells Jesus to make Mary help her with the work.

Falling Action: Jesus recognizes that Martha’s work has troubled her and made her anxious when she should be focused on just one thing.

Resolution: Jesus commends Mary for resting at his feet and spending time with him while Martha worked for him by completing acts of service.

   D. List basic observations about this passage using the “Key Question” for observation.

Remember to consult the list of items from the observation section in studying the Gospels in Chapter 36. This will help you be more detailed in your answers to “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how.”

1. Who:

  • Luke (author)
  • Theophilus and other Gentiles with largely Greek backgrounds (audience)
    • “The conclusion is that Luke’s primary recipient (Theophilus), and others beyond him, were Gentiles with largely Greek backgrounds (Hindson and Towns, p. 373).
  • Mary
  • Martha
  • Jesus
  • Jesus’ disciples (traveling with Jesus – not main characters in this story)

2. What:

            Jesus and his disciples visit Mary and Martha’s village in the midst of their travel.

Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her house. She shows hospitality in her willingness to serve Jesus and his disciples.

Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to hear his teaching. Her posture before Jesus is one of awe; she humbles herself before him as she sits on the ground, attentively listening. This indicates that Mary recognizes Jesus’ unending wisdom. She eagerly submits to his teaching.

Martha’s service distracted her from being at Jesus’ feet with Mary. Martha had good intentions as she aimed to serve Jesus and his disciples, but her work became overly important to her.

Martha told Jesus to instruct Mary to work with her, but Jesus insisted that Mary made a good choice by sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching. Martha believed she was in the right for working so hard. While Martha aimed to serve Jesus, he indicated that Mary made a better decision by being in his presence instead of worrying about her service for him.

Jesus says that Mary’s “good portion,” or her time spent at Jesus’ feet, will never be taken away from her.

3. Where:

  • The region of Judea.
  • Mary and Martha’s village – the village of Bethany (near Jerusalem).
    • John 11:1 says, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha” (ESV).
  • Martha’s house.

4. When:

  • The story takes place during Jesus’ lifetime, specifically during his earthly ministry (between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33).
  • Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha occurs just after he teaches the parable of the Good Samaritan. After the story of Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10, chapter 11 begins when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray using the Lord’s Prayer.

5. Why:

  • Why did Jesus visit Mary and Martha?
    • John 11:5 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (ESV).
    • This Scripture indicates that Jesus knew Mary and Martha and loved them. Whether to rest in the midst of travel or simply visit the sisters, Jesus visits the village of Bethany, and the story takes place as Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her home.
  • Why did Mary sit at Jesus’ feet?
    • Mary’s position demonstrates her eagerness to listen to Jesus. She assuredly understood his authority and sat humbly before him in order to learn from his teaching.
  • Why did Martha get distracted with serving?
    • It seems that Martha acted with good intentions. She did not serve Jesus in order to win his praise; rather, she hoped to demonstrate kindness toward Jesus and honor him.
    • However, Martha let her work trouble her. Her service for Jesus became more important to her than spending time with Jesus.

6. How:

  • How did Martha serve Jesus and his disciples?
    • Martha first served Jesus and his disciples by welcoming them into her home.
    • The NLT says that Martha prepared a meal for Jesus and his disciples. Meal preparation distracted Martha from sitting at Jesus’ feet like Mary.
  • How did Martha confront Jesus?
    • Martha believed that it was unfair for her to serve alone. She told Jesus to make Mary help her with the work.
  • How did Jesus respond to Martha?
    • Jesus responded to Martha with loving correction. He understood Martha’s intentions, but he helped her recognize that her work had begun to trouble her and make her anxious.
    • He shifted Martha’s perspective, detailing the eternal value of Mary’s intentional, personal listening.

II. Interpretation

  1. Summarize: Determine the author’s main point. In 1-2 paragraphs (200-400 words) explain what you think the author is trying to communicate in this passage. Remember to take into consideration that this passage includes a conversation that Jesus has with Martha. Thus, this passage is both showing and telling us something.

This passage reveals the anxiety that results from improper priorities. Martha shows hospitality to Jesus and his disciples by welcoming them into her house, and she promptly busies herself with serving. It is important to note that this passage does not devalue service. In Mark 10:43-45, Jesus says, “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (ESV). To conclude that the story of Mary and Martha discounts the importance of service contradicts Jesus’ own teaching. Rather, the passage demonstrates the fault in Martha’s disproportionate desires. Martha makes serving Jesus more important than sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching. Her misplaced priorities distract her and fill her with anxiety. Jesus rebukes Martha’s anxious attitude, reorienting her desires by applauding Mary’s willingness to rest at his feet. Jesus explicitly tells Martha not to be worried or upset, insisting that only one thing matters—resting in his presence. Additionally, he subtly shows Martha that her anxiety stems from improper priorities; she made her work for Jesus more important than spending time with Jesus.

Jesus also reveals the eternal value of resting in his presence. In Luke 10:42, Jesus says, “But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (ESV, emphasis added). Martha’s service will end. Jesus and his disciples will eventually leave the village of Bethany; however, Jesus notes that Mary’s portion will never be taken away from her. The spiritual transformation that comes from being in the presence of Jesus and learning from him will not fade away.

  • Identify: Based on your answer above, write out one principle from this passage. You should be able to express this principle in 1-3 sentences.

Jesus commends service and hospitality, but he warns against making service more important than simply being in his presence. Anxiety results from improper priorities while resting in the presence of Jesus and listening to his teaching produces spiritual transformation that will not be taken away.

  • Check: Consult at least one scholarly resource in order to offer support for the principle that you believe the passage is teaching. In your WORDsearch library you have access to the following resources that could help here: The HCSB Study Bible, The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, or Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary. Be sure to quote from and cite the resource you are using for support.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary further clarifies the actions of Mary and Martha. The author states, “Luke 10:38-42 contrasts Martha’s activist discipleship with Mary’s contemplative discipleship. The church cannot minister without ‘Marthas’ who are willing to serve alone. Jesus’ gentle rebuke serves as a perpetual reminder not to major on minor matters. Jesus must not be neglected in the name of service” (Butler). Martha possesses misplaced priorities. She has good intentions as she strives to serve Jesus, but she misses an invaluable opportunity to sit at his feet and learn from him. However, this is the position that Mary takes as she stays at the feet of Jesus in order to listen and learn from him. Being at Jesus’ feet is something we see frequently in the character of Mary. Later on, in the Gospel of John (John 11:32), she will once again fall at Jesus’ feet when he arrives in Bethany in order to raise Lazarus from the dead. Her approach in this story is also different than Martha’s approach who does not fall at the feet of Jesus.

III. Correlation

  1. How does this passage from Luke’s Gospel fit within the metanarrative of the Bible? State what type of story you believe this to be (creation, fall, redemption, or new creation) and explain why you believe this to be so. Your explanation should be at least 1 paragraph in length.

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 resembles the redemptive theme of the Bible’s metanarrative. Mary and Martha each act differently in the presence of Jesus. Martha wants to honor Jesus and demonstrate her love for him through acts of service; however, work distracts her from resting in Jesus’ presence. After hearing Martha’s complaint and request for Mary’s aid in service, Jesus reminds Martha that “one thing is necessary” (v. 42). Jesus uses Mary as an example, noting that she has chosen “the good portion” (v. 42) by sitting at his feet. These contrasting responses to Jesus typify the redemptive nature of the Bible. The redemptive act of the metanarrative occurs ultimately in the sinless life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through his work on the cross, Jesus breaks the curse of sin and offers salvation to those who trust in Him. Thus, redemption does not depend on the faithfulness and good works of humanity. Rather, redemption rests in the perfect faithfulness of Christ. In this story, Jesus denies the need for Martha to please him with her good works and service. He recognizes Mary’s exemplary response to his presence – humility and rest at his feet.

  • How does your principle from Luke 10:38-42 fit with the rest of the Scripture? This principle is the one you have written out in 1-3 sentences in the Interpretation section. If your principle is a true Biblical principle, it will be reflected throughout the Scriptures. Where is the principle discovered in this New Testament narrative found elsewhere in the Scriptures? Your explanation should be at least 1 paragraph in length.

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus recognizes Martha’s anxiety, warning her not to make duty more important than God Himself. A similar truth appears in Matthew 12. On the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples pluck grain to eat, and the Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the Law. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Matthew 12:5-8, saying, “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (ESV). Jesus references Hosea 6:6, which reads, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus uses Hosea’s writings to reorient the Pharisees’ priorities, insisting that intimacy with God is more important than Sabbath observance and service of the law. Similarly, Jesus teaches Martha not to let service distract her from sitting at his feet like Mary, who showed Jesus “steadfast love” and grew in “knowledge of God” as she listened to his teaching.

  • How does this passage from Luke’s Gospel reflect the person and work of Jesus Christ? State and explain at least one way that the principle of this passage identifies something of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Your explanation should be at least 1 paragraph in length. 

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 reflects the salvific work of Jesus Christ.

Martha focuses on service, and she becomes anxious and troubled; however, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his teaching, warranting Jesus’ commendation. This tension between work and rest translates to the act of redemption in the Bible’s metanarrative. Martha’s anxiety stemming from extensive focus on her works reflects the futility of attempting to earn salvation. In contrast, Mary’s humble rest at Jesus’ feet relates to the posture of trust in the sufficiency of Christ that leads to salvation. It is impossible for sinful humans to work their way to God with good deeds and acts of service. Salvation rests in the faithfulness of Christ, not the faithfulness of humanity. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). This passage insists that salvation is not accomplished through humanity’s works; rather, it is a gift from God that comes through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

IV. Application

What points of application can be made using the Four Questions for Application? State and explain 1 point of application for each of these four questions. Your explanation for each of these points should be at least 1 paragraph in length. 

  1. The question of duty

            In Luke 10:38-42, Martha exemplified the danger of duty-driven service. The same obsession with accomplishments and “getting things done” that took Martha’s eyes off of Jesus pervades today’s culture. In obedient response to the message of this story, a Christian should fight the competitive, productivity-based tendencies of the human heart. Attempting to find satisfaction in her own accomplishments, Martha made serving Jesus more important than being in communion with the Lord himself. Her misplaced priorities failed to provide rest or peace; instead, Martha felt anxious. She even acted impatiently towards Mary, who wisely rejected a duty-driven mentality. Mary fought Martha’s obsession with productivity, and she allowed Jesus to teach her. Likewise, Christians today must prioritize rest in the presence of Jesus, giving God opportunities to speak through His Word. To a worldly culture that glorifies efficiency, setting aside time to pray, study Scripture, worship, and simply rest in the presence of God seems awfully wasteful. Regardless, Christians must labor counterculturally, finding time to rest and enjoy the riches of God’s mercy and love. Service completed out of obligation leads to dissatisfaction while love-driven service will result from intimately knowing the One who offers unending peace, grace, and joy.

  • The question of character

            This story challenges Christians to possess peace and rest in the place of anxiety. Jesus did not reject Martha’s desire to serve; rather, he disapproved of her anxiety and worry. He contrasted Martha with Mary, who found peace as she sat at the Lord’s feet to hear his teaching. Jesus’ rejection of anxiety appears prevalently throughout Scripture. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus instructed his followers not to be anxious about their lives and called them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33a ESV). Likewise, the apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). Jesus and the apostle Paul insisted that rest should trump worldly obligations as Christians cultivate intimacy with God. In the sanctifying work of Christ through the Holy Spirit, Christians will cultivate peace and rest. The chains of duty that troubled Martha will progressively fall off through the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians will learn to rest in the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, and peace will rule their hearts.

  • The question of goals

            The message of Luke 10:38-42 indicates that prioritizing rest in God’s presence will reorient Christians’ desires and motivate genuinely loving service. Jesus did not disregard service entirely, for doing so would have contradicted his other teachings (e.g. Mark 10:43-45). Rather, Jesus devalued duty-driven service that attempted to earn satisfaction based on works. He rejected Martha’s anxiety that resulted from a fixation with productivity. In contrast, Jesus commended Mary for maintaining proper priorities as she sat before the Lord humbly. Learning from this passage, Christians should prioritize communion with God: learning from Him and resting in His presence. As Christians spend time with God and learn how much their Heavenly Father loves them, genuine service will result. Christians will serve with selfless love; they will not serve out of obligation in order to earn God’s affection or approval. In the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the author writes, “Jesus’ gentle rebuke serves as a perpetual reminder not to major on minor matters. Jesus must not be neglected in the name of service” (Butler). Ultimately, the passage challenges Christians to evaluate their goals, motivating them to prioritize communion with God and serve only with the genuine love that comes from doing so.

  • The question of discernment

            In Mark 10:43b-45, Jesus says, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (ESV). Meanwhile, in Luke 10:38-42, Jesus challenged Martha’s obsession with service. Juxtaposed, the two passages demonstrate that Jesus calls us to glorify the Lord both through service and rest in His presence; however, Jesus does not give Christians a rulebook to follow as they strive to obey both commands. Thus, discernment as it relates to the story of Mary and Martha involves learning when to work and when to rest. Likewise, the passage teaches Christians that discernment often deals with their motivations for obedience. Jesus did not condemn Martha for serving – He disapproved of the anxiety that resulted when Martha made productivity her first priority. As Christians aim to see the world as God sees it, they begin to evaluate their motivations and learn how to balance service and rest, buoyed by the grace of God as the Holy Spirit sanctifies them.


Hindson, Ed and Elmer L. Towns. Illustrated Bible Survey: An Introduction. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017.

Butler, Trent C. “Martha.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, and E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

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