The village to which Jesus next went with his disciples was Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. Here Martha extended hospitality in her home. (Luke 10:38; John 11:1, 18)
Focused on preparations for her guests, Martha attended to her many tasks, while her sister Mary seated herself at Jesus’ feet and listened to his teaching. This greatly disturbed Martha, as she felt that her sister should be helping her to accomplish what needed to be done. When she felt overwhelmed and anxious about everything that had been left for her to do, Martha expressed her feelings to Jesus, saying to him: “Lord, does it not concern you that my sister has left me alone to serve? So tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:39, 40)
In response, Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but of one thing [there] is need. Mary, then, chose the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, 42) This reply may be understood to mean that the essential was the more valuable spiritual provision. The material ministering had so worried and distracted Martha that she had lost out on the truly good portion, which Mary had chosen. Unlike a meal that only satisfies a need for a short time, the sustaining power of a spiritual provision is not temporary.
According to another manuscript reading, Jesus said that “of a few things [there] is need, or of one.” This may mean that a few things were essential for a meal, but the one thing of greater value was the spiritual provision, the part that Mary had chosen.
This was not a criticism of Martha’s hospitality but a loving reminder that worries and concerns about material provisions should not be allowed to become so distracting as to forfeit spiritual benefits. They were the words of one who deeply cared about Martha. According to John 11:5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister.”