The Story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) occurs as Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" and dispatches the seventy disciples ahead with no provisions; instructs them to waste no time; to travel lightly and to depend on the hospitality of anyone who would welcome them on their journey. Likewise, immediately preceding the visit to the home of Martha and Mary, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which reveals an example of extraordinary compassion for a complete stranger in need. So, in context of these preceding stories, are we not somewhat taken aback with his admonishing Martha and siding with Mary? Our instincts tell us that Jesus should not chide Martha as he affirmed Mary’s choice to join the disciples and disparaged her for being distracted with less important matters. Didn’t Jesus admonish Simon for being less than attentive to the needs of his “honored” guest (Luke 7:36) a few weeks ago? His affirmation of one woman's choice and criticism of the other seems out of character, especially because Jesus consistently emphasizes service and hospitality. So, what is the justification for his dismissal of Martha's attention to the care of her guests? We certainly can relate to Martha wanting the meal to go well, especially since we can assume that Martha and Mary were well aware of Jesus’ notoriety as an important religious teacher and they were honored to be able to host him…why else would they risk breaking the law by having a man in the house without the presence of a male relative? After all, isn’t Martha doing what is expected of her as a good hostess?
Our natural inclination is to justify what Jesus does. But perhaps this story is intended to disturb us. Luke portrays Jesus in an unexpected way to teach that the coming of God’s kingdom is the first priority and while he acknowledges the importance of Martha's service in ordinary circumstances, no earthly tasks should get in the way.
Sometimes we need our expectations to be challenged in order to hear what Jesus is trying to tell us.