Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, received Jesus into her home (Luke 10:38), which was located in Bethany (John 11:1). The fact that Jesus and his disciples enjoyed at least a meal and shelter in Martha’s home (Luke 10:38), which was less than two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18), shows that Jesus had finally arrived at his destination, Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover (cf. Luke 9:51).
One’s duties to one’s neighbor was the subject of discussion between Jesus and the lawyer (Luke 10:25-37), and this concerned the second commandment, to which the lawyer referred in the text (Luke 10:25). However, when Jesus came to Bethany (Luke 10:38), the subject of conversation between Martha and himself changed to one’s duty to the Lord, the first commandment to which the lawyer referred (cf. Luke 10:25).
Martha was very particular about her household duties, and what was expected of her as a hostess (Luke 10:40-41). Her request that Jesus tell Mary to help her, may be an indication that her desire to please her guests wasn’t appreciated. The lawyer, mentioned a few verses earlier, was also concerned about doing his duty. However, while Martha seemed to be going above and beyond what was expected, the lawyer sought to understand what was least expected of him, according to the Law (Luke 10:27, 29).
It seems the lawyer had taken for granted that he already loved God with his whole heart, mind, soul and strength. His whole concern seemed to revolve around his duty to his neighbor (Luke 10:27, 29). Martha, on the other hand, sought to go above and beyond what was normally expected of her as a hostess (serving others), but actually neglected her Guest of honor by being with him in only the least amount of time she thought she could spare (Luke 10:40-41).
Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet, a position she probably had taken while she washed his feet (cf. Luke 7:44). She remained there to listen to him speak, because this is where she wanted to be (Luke 10:39-40, 42). The lawyer, in contrast, took his own love for the Lord for granted, thinking he loved God sufficiently enough to satisfy the Law, but he spent his time in discussion seeking to offer God the least amount of service the law demanded (cf. Luke 10:27, 29).
If Mary’s position at Jesus’ feet indicates that she was there to wash his feet, it is evidence to the fact that she was not lazy or inconsiderate toward her sister. On the contrary, Martha, herself, told the Lord that Mary had “left her to serve alone” (Luke 10:40), indicating that Mary had been assisting Martha in her hostess duties. She simply wished to spend more time with Jesus, something which Martha felt wasn’t very important.
In Luke 10:38-41 Jesus’ focus was upon man’s duty to love God (cf. Luke 10:27). However, in all of Martha’s service toward her guests, the fact that she spent little time with them indicates she wasn’t giving them her most valued possession, namely her presence or, put another way, her time (Luke 10:40-42). If one loves God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27), he ought not neglect spending time with God in discussion (prayer, worship and study).The Psalmist says: One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. (Psalms 27:4 KJV). This is what Martha had neglected to do, but it was the most important thing she could have done.