I don’t think it is an accident that the story of Mary and Martha occurs right after the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus says in Luke 10:28 that the way to eternal life is to love God and love our neighbor. The lawyer apparently thinks that he has the loving God part down (probably by knowing and obeying the Law of God) but tests Jesus as to who the neighbor is that he needs to love.
Jesus launches into the story of the Good Samaritan challenging his listeners to get their hands dirty and help out the people all around them regardless of their religious traditions. Sounds like Jesus wants to keep us busy serving the least, the last, the lost, the left out.
Then Luke tells us about Martha and Mary. These are friends of Jesus. Martha is busy in the kitchen making preparations for a large meal for Jesus’ large entourage. She is working by herself while the others, including her sister Mary, are sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking up all that he has to say and teach. The scriptures continually tell us that the people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus and the authority that he had in it. I imagine Jesus to be mesmerizing and to actually be able to sit at his feet and listen to him would be one of those occasions when time stands still and nothing else, including food and drink, matters.
Martha breaks up the love feast and calls out to Jesus…”Hey! I am working alone here! See Mary. She should be helping me. Tell her to get off her butt and get in the kitchen!”
Given the context…isn’t Martha Mary’s neighbor? Isn’t Martha in need? Couldn’t Mary meet that need? Wasn’t she neglecting the command to love her neighbor? Wasn’t Mary being selfish by focusing on Jesus?
Jesus responds by putting it all into perspective. “Martha…you are anxious and worried about many things…but few are needed…indeed, only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The better thing than all the activity, all the anxiety, all the worry is to be centered in Jesus. The better thing is to Love God and spend time with God, and listen to God as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.
And of course, if we are doing that, we will love our neighbor because God is love. It will happen. It isn’t forced. Remember the Samaritan was just was just traveling down the road with all kinds of things to do, but he took time to care for his neighbor.
If we are devoting ourselves to Jesus and loving Jesus, we will love our neighbor.
So, test your love for neighbor by testing your love for Jesus. Is it growing? Are you spending time at his feet? Are you listening more?