I love Martha. I visit her story again and again to draw from her spunk and strength as a sister in Christ. Yet all too often I see her used as an example of failed discipleship not a woman of valour. Nobody wants to be a Martha. Marthas fuss and fluster. Marthas are too busy for Jesus. Marthas are ridged and unemotional. Marthas are blind to the important things. But was this really Martha? Let me encourage you to look at her again.
During his travels Jesus visits the village of Bethany. Here Martha opens her home to Jesus and his disciples. No parents and no husband are mentioned in Martha’s picture, suggesting she is a young woman perhaps both orphaned and widowed who capably managed a rather wealthy estate and raised her two younger siblings Mary and Lazarus. And when Jesus comes to town Martha opens her doors and welcomes in Jesus and his travelling horde.
Yes, always be a Martha. Let’s always open our homes and our tables to Jesus and all. The scarcity of God’s good gifts was the serpents lie within a garden of abundance. Let us be people who practice abundance. Hospitality is intrinsic to the God-image in us—the desire to use our creative capacity to take all that is formless and empty and cultivate good abundance to share with all. This is our God-given design and commission.
So Martha gets busy with the lunch. But Mary, Mary sits down with Jesus to listen to him teach. The responsible eldest siblings amongst us can perhaps most empathise with Martha’s frustration. But Martha clearly isn’t the passive aggressive type who’s going to bang the pots loudly and angrily in the kitchen expecting Mary and Jesus to notice. No, Martha is one for the emotionally honest showdown. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” But Jesus says no. Jesus teaches Martha that Mary’s choice is good and worthy and won’t be taken from her.
And hasn’t this story been abused forevermore to uselessly divide women into Mary’s or Martha’s, to belittle domestic work while still expecting ‘the women’ to get it all done in a smooth and timely fashion, to tease the ladies in the church kitchen while we munch on their good cakes? And I think this would make Jesus turn in his temporary grave. Jesus wasn’t disempowering Martha’s service—such hospitality is sacred, core to the heart of God. Jesus was affirming both Mary and Martha as his disciples, his followers, his dear friends. Jesus was revealing that he had entered their home not to be served but to serve.
Yes, always be a Martha. Let’s take our pain, our disappointments, our frustrations, our burdens first to Jesus. Let’s be awestruck that our King came not to be served but to serve. Let’s remember again that we are welcomed by Jesus as his beloved friends. Let us drop our endless need to prove our worth and sit loved at his feet listening to his words.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus clearly become Jesus’ heartfelt and lifelong friends. Lazarus gets the wiz-bang rising from the dead moment in their friendship story, but we don’t learn much more about Lazarus. It is Mary and Martha who get all the speaking roles.
For Martha’s story doesn’t end here. We forget this because her part-two does get a little overshadowed by Lazarus. Lazarus gets scary sick and Martha and Mary send for Jesus. But Jesus dilly-dallies returning to Bethany. Lazarus dies. Jesus arrives four days later.
When Martha hears Jesus is finally approaching the village she goes out to meet him. Now Martha really should be the patron saint of going for the emotional jugular, because again she doesn’t hold back, “Lord. If you had been here my brother would not have died!”
Can you feel Jesus’ whiplash. They say a good friend will stab you in the front.
Yet Martha has not finished speaking, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Can you feel the aching expectancy here, the trembling tension? Can you feel her hope? Between the lunch incident and Lazarus’ death Mary isn’t the only sister who has listened to Jesus. Jesus says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answers, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus replies, “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,” says Martha. “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Be Martha. Let’s give Jesus our hearts at their bitter honest. Let’s run to Jesus when we bleed with need for resurrection. Let’s say in our darkest hours, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
And when Jesus stands before Lazarus’ tomb he cries, a deep anger writhing within him at the wrongness of death in his good world, and Jesus tells death no, and Lazarus walks out. Martha’s brother becomes forever a sign that death is not the end for Jesus’ friends.
Each week at church we say together the Apostles’ Creed. Have you ever noticed that at the end we all answer with our sister Martha? “Yes, Lord, I believe, I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Here Martha’s words, Martha’s testimony, stand as a forever gift to our forever church, for we are all Martha, all beloved friends of our beloved King. So next time you share the Creed, step into Martha’s story as you speak these words, feel yourself holding your lost brother back safe and alive and warm in your arms, and know that God created you to live, to live loved inside the arms of God, now and forever.
Hello, I’m Laura Tharion, and I am passionate about spreading the joy and wonder to be found in living a resurrected life inside Jesus Christ. I enjoy tea, cake, history, hammocks, wild bushland, gardening, reading, and gifting my favourite books into the hands of others. I had the pleasure of studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College before my three lovely little boys arrived to fill my days. Here I picked up the pet soap-boxes of mission advocacy and teaching the Bible as one unified story. I have a heart to write—sermons, studies, articles, meditations, poetry, and epic novels, all which aim to explore theology and encourage everyone to fully realise all they have been given and commissioned in Christ.