Who Do You Blame?

Or, “Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?”

Jesus Mary Martha - VermeerPlease read the Martha and Mary Story in Luke 10:38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted concerning her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled concerning many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

For more context on this story, please see Sunday’s sermon here

Notice that Martha blames first Mary (implicitly) and then Jesus. For what does she blame them? Her distress. Martha thinks she’s blaming them for not helping her. Not Luke. Not Jesus. Luke describes Martha as “distracted” (= dragged away), and Jesus invites her to see that she is “anxious” and “troubled.”

This is one of those pivotal truths of the spiritual life we get to learn again and again:

Anytime we are in distress
the remedy lays primarily within our self not our circumstances
(darn it!).

Do you resist/love this as much as I do?

I resist it because I want my distress to be about someone else’s bad behavior. As in, “I don’t need to change; you do!”

But that’s powerless and pathetic.

What I love is that I can claim the power to choose how I feel and think about this moment and every moment. This, I think, is Jesus’ “one thing,” the “better part.” I can choose to abide in the presence of the Presence residing within me.

Here’s what I mean: Luke describes Mary as peacefully resting at Jesus’ feet listening to his word. Luke knows his readers cannot sit at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is gone. So what’s the point of the Martha and Mary story? Great question.

Luke’s entire story of Jesus provides Jesus’ words and example and connects them with the larger story of Jesus’ people, Israel. Within that story is the promise of Jesus’ Presence dwelling within us, and we have received that Presence. So though we cannot sit at Jesus’ feet listening as Mary did, we can sit at Jesus’ feet by reflecting on his words and example and resting in his Presence within.

Thus, the exchange between Jesus and Martha provides a fabulous example:

Celebrate distress!

Especially when it’s expressed in blaming others. Yes, celebrate it! It’s a great gift. It’s the Holy Spirit’s way of reaching out to us to bring us back. “Wake up!” the Spirit is urging, “You have let yourself be pulled away. Simply return!” It’s nothing but a reminder.

Please engage Luke 10:38-42 (= tell God your response and listen for God’s response to you). [If you are new to our blog, a description of our method of “engaging,” which is a method for reading and praying with the Bible, other literature, and life itself, can be found here.].

And there’s another question underlying this one: “Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?” We’ll explore that question in the next post.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. My wife thinks Jesus should simply have gotten up and helped Martha …

More to come …

About jclark

The Rev. Jim Clark is the Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. Barnabas on the Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona.


  1. Susie Parker says:

    I really needed this reminder today! Your posts always bring peace and good news. But, admittedly, I kind of agree with B!

  2. Bob Stedelin says:

    Your wife’s comment – Get up and help. I don’t think so.

  3. Jeff Bell says:

    Personal accountability is a wonderful thing. Too often, in our society, people want to blame others for their distress. Its always someone else’s fault. Its refreshing to hear that the first place to look is within ourselves.

  4. Elizabeth Garas says:

    (The words that attracted me were “teaching” and “listening”). I read this passage a little differently. What impressed me was that Jesus was “on the road”, so to speak, going from town to town, village to village, proclaiming who He is. In the scriptures following this passage, the emphasis is on the Lord’s teaching, and I believe that He prepares us with the sweet story of Martha and Mary.

    I notice that when Jesus entered Bethany, Martha welcomed Him into her home with the goal of taking Jesus in and serving Him with hospitality. Martha and Mary were happy and excited to invite Him in as they both believed in Him (Martha said to Him, “Lord, Kurios”, so at some point she and Mary had embraced the truth that He was Lord). Martha makes extensive preparations, of course, since God and the Apostles and others were their guests!

    Mary, Martha’s sister is lightly mentioned and yet becomes the center figure of the story and an example for all of us for our Christian experience. She is the model to follow simply because she was continually listening to the Lord’s words. She wasn’t only listening, but she was seated at His feet (the Rabbis didn’t allow that!), hearing the very truth of God from the lips of the Lord of Heaven Himself! Her priority was to hear and listen to Jesus.

    Martha, on the other hand, was distracted with all her preparations which she, in her efforts to be hospitable, had made a priority. Martha was distracted from the priority of listening to the Word of the Lord which she also had a desire to do. I believe that she was frustrated and anxious because she wanted to do both, bless her heart.

    Like many of us do when we lose our perspective, Martha spoke wrongly, making the incredibly
    graceless statement to Jesus, “Do You not care”? It would have been better if she had gone in to Jesus and sat down next to Mary and just listened. He came to teach the truth.

    I love Jesus’ corrective but sympathetic rebuke, “Martha, Martha, you are worried (‘merimnao’- unduly concerned) and bothered (‘thorubazo’-to be troubled)”. It was good to do what she did, but not then when it was time to hear the Word of God. And then Jesus said, “Only a few things are necessary, really only one. Mary has chosen the best part”.

    My response is that even though we have faith, we can become distracted by what is not necessary. We want to be faithful on the job, faithful to our homes and families, and we want to enjoy the world that God has given us. But these things should never replace sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing Him speak so that the priority is clear. This then informs everything else in our lives, leading us to see His Beauty, His Glory, and to love, obey, and proclaim Him.

  5. Asking myself where my heart is in the midst of my day has become a necessity in my walk with God; and HE has supplied me with a multitude of emotional signals to remind me when I am  leaving Heaven. 
    THANK YOU GOD, for giving me the neurons that create the bodily sensations, that tell me I’m anxious, or sad, or angry, or just plain pitiful as I go about my day. I’m really familiar with these reactive emotional responses because they come so naturally to me. However, I’m tired of playing with them so I’d rather attend to the Holy Spirit that resides within me, along side of  ‘them’.  

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