We are created in the image of God with likenesses and unique differences. We have different character traits with our strengths and weaknesses. When you face intense challenges, do you remain calm and able to make decisions with a clear head? Do you get frustrated and lash out? Do you take a stand, or do you humble yourself before authority? What if you are in the position of authority, and someone comes at you demanding that you do something to fix their perceived problem? How do you respond? Do you retaliate with your authority in sternness, or do you defuse the situation with a quiet strength and wisdom? There is much to be learned from the little that is recorded of Mary and Martha’s faith journey. Without all of our presuppositions of the right and wrong way, someone should respond, let us step into these stories with wonder to know ourselves a little better, given that the same situation would become ours to face. May God bless us with wisdom and growth.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV).
Let us ponder this story and put ourselves into each of these roles. How many people do you think Martha has invited into their home? Who was Martha counting on to help her with all the preparations and serving? Martha’s confidence that Mary would be by her side helping her is valid. Have you ever found yourself in this predicament? Have you ever volunteered for an incredible job with the assurance that you would have help, only to find yourself stuck doing all the work yourself? How did you respond? How did Martha respond? Sadly, she interrupted the very one she initially set out to honor. What would you do if you were engaged in your work, and someone interrupted you demanding that you fix their problem? Would you dismiss them and shame them for dishonoring you in such a way? Notice how Jesus responded. He defused the situation using it as a teaching moment for life’s frustrations. He honored Martha’s emotions about her circumstances, but He did not make Mary get up and attend to her chores. Instead, He honored her for choosing what is best and let her stay at listening to His teaching. Praise be to God! May we always honor one another and speak peace into situations. May we carry the Light and Love of Jesus Christ into every challenge we face.
As we bask in the lessons of life that flow from that story, let us join Mary and Martha as they grieve the death of their brother and engage in conversation with Jesus. Enter into this journey with them and listen carefully to their words. Where are they in their faith, and what do they know to be true? Also, pay close attention not only to their words but also to their actions. Let us dig in.
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea…On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days…When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. ‘Lord’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
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.’ When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept…Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘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. Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone…Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him” (John 11:1-46 NIV).
There is so much to learn from this story, but right now, let us focus on the interaction of Mary and Martha with Jesus. When Lazarus got sick, they knew they needed to send word to Jesus. They were confident that if Jesus were there, He would restore Lazarus’s health. Both of them testify to this: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21, 32). They had the faith, but not the full understanding of who Jesus truly is. Where are we in our faith? Do we truly live in the strength and the power of the Christ within? Do we take hold of the truth and enjoy the peace of God that surpasses understanding? Are we content in any and all situations? (Phil 4:11-12). Do we carry the Light of Christ, or do we hide it under a basket? (Matt 5:14-16).
When they get word that Jesus was coming, notice that Martha goes out to meet Him, but Mary stays in the house grieving. What would you have done? What is Martha’s posture when she meets Jesus? What does she say to Jesus? Carefully ponder Jesus and Martha’s conversation. What does Martha know to be true about Jesus? What does Jesus tell her He is going to do? What is Jesus’ testimony to Martha? Who does she profess Jesus to be? Then what does Martha do? When Mary meets Jesus, what is her posture? What does she say to Him? Given the same situation, what would your posture be before Jesus? Would you kneel at His feet or look Him in the eyes? What would you do? What would you say?
As we search our hearts considering what our true response would be, let us reflect once more on Jesus and Martha’s conversation. Notice what she says when Jesus tells them to remove the stone from the tomb. She falters back holding on to what she knows to be true in this physical world, instead of clinging to the words of Christ and seeing the situation through the eyes of faith. Isn’t this true of us all? We believe we believe, and then we falter into unbelief as God stretches us on our journey of faith. Praise God for His patience and belief in us.
One more short story of Mary and Martha and then we will close. Please enter in. “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me’” (John 12:1-8 NIV).
Notice Martha is the one that is serving, and Mary is at Jesus’ feet. In all three recorded events we always find Mary at our Master’s feet. This time Martha isn’t distressed. The sisters have walked this journey with Christ, and now He’s on His way to the cross. In the conversation Martha had with Jesus about resurrection and eternal life, it was Martha that professed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (11:27). Now it is Mary that, through faith, understood that she had saved this perfume for a sacred time for Christ. The hour had come for her to anoint Him for burial. Jesus is on His way to the cross, and so begins the Holy Week. Praise be to God. Is Christ your guiding Light? Are we connected with Christ in such a powerful way that we would have known the time has come? I understand that we will never be tested in this same way, but as believers, Christ speaks to our hearts each day. Are our souls at peace enough that we hear and obey? Let us honor each moment that we have been blessed with to make a difference in the lives of others. Do not allow your ears to grow deaf by all the negative influences that can surround you. Break free, carry the Light, and point others to Jesus Christ. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Cor 16:13-14 NIV). To God be the glory. Amen.