Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Counsel to Martha, and Instruction on Prayer
DURING the course of Jesus’ Judean ministry, he enters the village of Bethany. This is where Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus live. Perhaps Jesus met these three earlier in his ministry and so is already close friends with them. In any event, Jesus now goes to the home of Martha and is welcomed by her.
Martha is eager to provide Jesus with the very best that she has. Indeed, it is a great honor to have the promised Messiah visit one’s home! So Martha becomes involved in preparing an elaborate meal and seeing to many other details designed to make Jesus’ stay more enjoyable and comfortable.
On the other hand, Martha’s sister Mary sits down at Jesus’ feet and listens to him. After a while, Martha approaches and says to Jesus: “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.”
But Jesus refuses to say anything to Mary. Rather, he counsels Martha for being overly concerned with material things. “Martha, Martha,” he kindly reproves, “you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one.” Jesus is saying that it is not necessary to spend a lot of time preparing many dishes for a meal. Only a few or even just one dish is sufficient.
Martha’s intentions are good; she wants to be a hospitable hostess. Yet, by her anxious attention to material provisions, she is missing out on the opportunity to receive personal instruction from God’s own Son! So Jesus concludes: “For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Later, on another occasion, a disciple asks Jesus: “Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.” Possibly this disciple was not present about a year and a half earlier when Jesus provided the model prayer in his Sermon on the Mount. So Jesus repeats his instructions but then goes on to give an illustration to emphasize the need to be persistent in prayer.
“Who of you will have a friend,” Jesus begins, “and will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves, because a friend of mine has just come to me on a journey and I have nothing to set before him’? And that one from inside says in reply, ‘Quit making me trouble. The door is already locked, and my young children are with me in bed; I cannot rise up and give you anything.’ I tell you, Although he will not rise up and give him anything because of being his friend, certainly because of his bold persistence he will get up and give him what things he needs.”
By this comparison Jesus does not mean to imply that Jehovah God is unwilling to respond to petitions, as was the friend in his story. No, but he is illustrating that if an unwilling friend will respond to persistent requests, how much more so will our loving heavenly Father! So Jesus continues: “Accordingly I say to you, Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.”
Jesus then makes a reference to imperfect, sinful human fathers, saying: “Indeed, which father is there among you who, if his son asks for a fish, will perhaps hand him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he also asks for an egg, will hand him a scorpion? Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” Indeed, what motivating encouragement Jesus provides to be persistent in prayer. Luke 10:38–11:13.
◆ Why does Martha go to such extensive preparations for Jesus?
◆ What does Mary do, and why does Jesus commend her instead of Martha?
◆ What prompted Jesus to repeat his instructions on prayer?
◆ How did Jesus illustrate the need to be persistent in prayer?