Being a Martha in a Mary world

I wrote this as a note on my Facebook page last November.  I went back and read it again tonight, and thought I’d share it here.

 I think we do Martha a disservice. What am I talking about, you’re probably asking right now. Martha, as in the Martha from Luke 10. Here, let me refresh your memory:

“38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,

42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary is often praised for her ability to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen and worship, and rightly so, she was doing the right thing. I think the disconnect with Martha happens is that she is often cast in the light of a, well, a whiner. Someone who is so distracted that she can’t seem to realize that Christ the Messiah is sitting in her living room. In that instance, she was, and Christ knew it and rebuked her for having her focus on the inconsequential things, that,well,  probably really didn’t matter. She was more worried about being hostess and how everything needed to look and be right for “company”. Is that wrong, no, but when the preparations and procedures take precedence over people, then it does become wrong.

Here’s where we have the disconnect though, we don’t look at Martha all the way through her journey in the gospels. Pastors, teachers, etc., usually stop here and rail on her about her lack of focus, but let’s look further. We next see her and her family in Luke 11. This is the amazing chapter about Lazarus being raised from the dead. Lazarus gets “top billing” here and rightly so, HE WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD!! How absolutely, rocking and amazing is that?!? But Martha has a major part in this account. Luke 11 states no less than 3 times that Jesus loved this family, he had a close personal relationship with them. However, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he delayed for 4 days, even though Bethany was only distance of 2 miles from where He was. Let’s step back for a second. Two miles, to be honest is not very far, the average person can cover that distance in 32 minutes (if you’re walking at a really quick pace) or 15 minutes if you’re really running. Jesus waited though, not because He didn’t care, but because He had a plan, and a purpose, and a point to make through this moment. This is where, I believe, Martha shines. Let’s take a look at the conversation between Martha and Jesus:

20 “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;

26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

I love this conversation. Martha doesn’t accuse Jesus of anything, she simply states the facts, but she also affirms that she believes. Now, notice this: who went out to meet Jesus? It was Martha. Where was Mary, she stayed at home. It’s a simple difference in personality here. Martha, being a servant and probably also being a more direct person, went to meet Christ before he stepped foot in the home. Mary, was probably still grieving in her own way for her dead brother. What happens next also shows a lot about Martha’s personality:

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”

29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Did you see that in verse 28? She went to Mary and told her Jesus wanted to see her. It’s not recorded that He said that, so maybe He did, but, again, it’s not recorded. But she went back to get her sister so she could see Jesus as well. What did Mary do, she stated the same fact that Martha had, that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.

The last words of Martha in this chapter are in verse 39, it’s when Jesus says to roll away the stone from Lazarus’s grave. Her words: “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” It’s not doubt or distrust, it’s a simple statement of fact. She’s already stated she believes, but, to be honest, it’s going to stink when you open a grave after 4 days. Christ’s reply: “40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Now, making an assumption here (which is always dangerous), I believe her silence after his statement is consent to open the grave, or maybe she gave a silent nod, regardless, the grave was opened and a miracle beheld by everyone.

What I think is amazing in this chapter is the exchange between Martha and Jesus. We see a woman of deep faith and practicality that has become more balanced. She ran to meet Jesus, and then without direction, urged her sister to go see Jesus.

The last time we see Martha mentioned is in the very next chapter, and it’s only briefly, because, again, Mary’s actions take precedence., and rightly so. Martha’s mentioned in John 12: 2 “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.” It’s here that Mary anoints Jesus with the costly perfume and washes Jesus’s feet with her tears and hair, it’s also where we see Judas Iscariot mentioned as a thief and scoundrel. It’s easy to miss Martha, but what was she doing? She was being true to her gift, she was serving. She had accepted the fact that it was her gift, hers was her form of worship to Christ, to God. Mary was the more contemplative one, the one that was more demonstrative in her worship for Christ, Martha on the other hand, well her gift of worship was service.

There’s a big change from Luke 10 and John 12, and I think that change is Martha’s growth in her faith. In Luke 10 we see a woman harried and distracted with preparations. In John 11 we see a woman of faith, who balances practicality with simple acknowledgements that Christ is God and can do anything. In John 12 we see a woman serving. We can ask the question if the instances in Luke 10 and John 12 are the same, maybe, but I would like to think it a progression of growth, a maturing of a persons faith.

So what’s the point, what am I trying to say here, you’re probably asking right now. It’s simple. Worship comes in many forms. There’s the form that Mary shows, the sitting and listening, the adoration of her anointing. There’s also the form that Lazarus shows us, the sitting with Jesus, the obvious example of Christ’s power. Then there’s also the example of Martha, and this is my personal favorite, because this is where I am: it’s the form of worship of giving and serving. Some people’s act of worship is to do, so that others can sit and adore. Let’s not get so wrapped up in the adoration that we don’t acknowledge that doing is a form of worship as well. The important thing to remember about the “Doing” is that we keep the focus on the “ONE”. The focus should always be Christ. It was Martha’s mistake in Luke 10, she was focused on the form, the procedure, not on Christ. As a servant, as well as all others whose gift is that of a servant, I have to remember that as we serve the body, our gift of worship should always be focused on Christ.

Have a Blessed Christmas.

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