What Martha and Mary illustrate about prayer

The way the two sisters interact with Jesus in the story (Luke 10) makes us think about how we interact with God in prayer. What Martha and Mary have in common is that both of them are interacting with Jesus. However, they are interacting with him in completely different and symbolic ways.

Martha is talking at Jesus. She wants him to do something for her. Note that her cause is right. If fairness had been the only standard for conduct, then Mary should have joined her sister in preparing for the dinner party. However, there are often more important things than fairness. In this case, what was going on between Mary and Jesus was more important than the letter of the law of fairness.

Martha was talking at Jesus, but Mary was communing with Jesus. She sat at his feet, hanging on his every word and action. Mary was enjoying a personal connection with Jesus. We can't say the same for Martha.

Another way to describe the difference is this: Martha was looking at Jesus; Mary was looking into Jesus’ eyes. There is a world of difference between the two ways of seeing someone.

It has often been observed that Martha and Mary illustrate different ways of interacting with God in prayer. One could be described as talking at and looking at God. The other is communing with God and looking into his eyes (metaphorically speaking). Which is more typical of your prayer life? If you’re like most people, you are much more Martha than Mary.

It is not that we can never ask God for things. The Bible is full of petitionary prayer. However, we must take care to make communing with God the foundation of our prayer lives and let petition flow from there. We do well to sit with God until we feel like we have looked into his eyes in a person-to-person connection. Now that’s good prayer!


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