In John 11:20 why did Mary remain at the house?

So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. (John 11:20, ESV)

This is not typical of Mary, who portrayed by the Gospels would usually be the first to see Jesus. She must have felt extremely hurt by Jesus’ delay; maybe even angry. Maybe Mary’s story tells us something about when we have these feelings toward God.

  • She was weak of fasting, and/or it was late and she didn't want to break her resolution to never leave the house after sunset. – Constantthin Sep 3 '19 at 22:40
  • ...saw Mary rise quickly and go out...(John 11:31, ESV) – Perry Webb Sep 3 '19 at 22:43
  • I think Martha might give a clue in verse 21. Mary was probably upset that Jesus didn't come earlier when she wanted him to. Mary might have had a moment of low faith...but the text does not indicate either way. – Michael Sep 3 '19 at 23:10
  • Did anyone find any information on the time of day? – Perry Webb Sep 3 '19 at 23:31
  • Well, acording to John 11:31, it seams that Mary might not have been aware that Jesus was approaching. But if she was, my fasting hypothesis still stands, I think. – Constantthin Sep 4 '19 at 0:26

When Martha told Mary that Jesus had come, Mary “arose quickly and came to him.”1 Shortly earlier, “many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother.” Then the author wrote,

20 Then Martha, when she heard that Jesus comes, met him, but Mary sat in the house.

The author does not actually state that Martha and Mary were both informed together that Jesus was coming. Rather, the narrative seems to suggest that Martha was informed separately (how, the author does not state) and then later Mary was informed by Martha and immediately went to meet Jesus.

So, Mary sat in the house, mourning for Lazarus,2 while Martha went to meet Jesus, since only Martha knew at that very moment that Jesus was coming.


1 John 11:28–29
2 It was the custom to sit while mourning, also known as sitting shiva (i.e., sitting for seven days; cf. Job 2:13).

  • I think this answer is reasonable, especially since ἤκουσεν (as she heard) is in the third person singular. If they had heard together at first then it would have been in the third person plural. – Ken Banks Sep 9 '19 at 20:26

“Mary remained seated in the house” The records of Martha and Mary show that Martha is the more active and perhaps even the more aggressive one. She is often belittled because she served while Mary sat and listened to the Lord (Luke 10:38-42). But then we do not know how much private time they and their brother got to spend with Jesus, and how many people needed attending to when Jesus visited their home. In this record there is no indication that Jesus called for Martha; it seems to be her more aggressive nature that she would take the initiative to go see him. Perhaps Mary was affected more deeply by the death of her brother; she is the only one who is said to be crying (John 11:33). Perhaps Mary felt betrayed by circumstances. She, like Martha, believed that had Jesus been around when Lazarus was still sick that Jesus could have healed him and kept him from dying (John 11:21, 32). And Jesus had been around until just shortly before Lazarus got sick, but his confrontation with the Jews was so intense that they were seeking to arrest him (John 10:39), and so he had left and traveled beyond the Jordan, out of Judea (John 10:40). That kind of circumstance naturally leaves people with an “If only” mindset.

Martha’s faith shines clearly in the record as she declares that she knows her brother will be in the resurrection. By staying home Mary missed out on one of Jesus’ very powerful and oft-quoted statements: “I am the resurrection and the life.”


The huge assembly of important people were seated in the house with Mary and Martha to comfort them. These guests can not be deserted by being left by both Martha and Mary the effective hosts, in MARTHA'S opinion,so Mary is left behind. However when Mary of Bethany hears she immediately leaves the house and the guests feel compelled to file out of the house also. This follows the pattern of Mary of Bethany doing what is socially unconventional for a Jewish woman (wiping her hair on Jesus, sitting with the students (disciples), using incredibly expensive burial ointment on a non-family member, entering a leper's house (Simon the leper), because of her devotion and insight.The 'lesson' is that devotion to the 'Jesus way' means doing socially unconventional things but the result will be miraculous and joyful.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.