Re-evaluating Martha

Posted on September 30, 2022

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A Beloved Account
The account of the sisters Martha and Mary is a popular and beloved one.

The quick summary is that Jesus came to the home of these 2 godly sisters and taught. During this time, the industrious Martha was accommodating the large crowd which had assembled. Mary, on the other hand, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39).

Feeling overwhelmed, Martha complained to Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (v. 40). Jesus replied: “Martha, Martha, 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” (vv. 41-42).

For centuries Bible teachers have blown this episode out of proportion, noting how Martha’s “worldly” mindset was inferior to her sister’s spiritual one. The application, therefore, is that we must emulate Mary rather than Martha.

Let’s re-evaluate Martha.

Quick Clarification
Note how Jesus did not chastise Martha. He simply recognized that in this particular case Mary’s instincts were better.

Like Mary, Martha should have put aside her sense of practicality, settled down for a spell, and listened to Jesus. It was a teaching moment for Jesus, and He taught Martha well. She could not have helped but to understand.

Martha Shines
Whenever this portion of Scripture is taught in favor of Mary, John Chapter 11 – the account of the death and resuscitation of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary – should follow.

Jesus was informed that Lazarus, a beloved friend, was on the verge of death. Rather than travel to Bethany to heal Lazarus, Jesus delayed, deliberately allowing Lazarus to die from his sickness because “it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (v. 4).

Jesus and His disciples finally arrived when “Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” (v. 17). Upon hearing that Jesus was in Bethany, “Martha … went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home” (v. 20). Was it just a sense of duty which brought Martha to Jesus? Was Mary – the more emotional of the two – too distraught to leave her home of mourning?

We don’t know, but what we do know is what the text clearly tells us: “Martha … went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.”

At once, Martha displayed her faith: “‘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’” (v. 21-22). First, Martha confessed her belief in Jesus as her Lord, and second, she saw Him as the author of all life – that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death if He so chose.

Jesus replied: “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23), to which Martha responded: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (v. 24). This indicates that Martha was not expecting Jesus to resuscitate her brother, but a definitive proclamation of her belief that Jesus was the One who will resurrect the faithful at a future date.

Jesus, however, had something else in mind as He asked Martha: “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?” (vv. 25-26).

This is where Martha shines as she uttered one of the great statements of faith in all Scripture: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (v. 27).

Her profession of Christ is threefold. One, she confessed Jesus as “the Messiah” whom Israel had been awaiting ever since becoming a people. Two, she unabashedly called Him “the Son of God,” acknowledging His deity. Three, she properly believed that Jesus was the one “who is to come into the world” – in other words, this was the Messiah upon whom all of Israel could place their hopes and aspirations.

Perfect Portrait
In the Luke account, Mary comes across as more spiritual than Martha, but in the John account, Martha wins the day. Her steadfast faith shines through; she expresses that faith gloriously, and states the absolute truth about the Lord Jesus with unmistakable clarity.

Martha is one of the great women of the Bible, the perfect portrait of faith for men and women down through the centuries.

Let her never be discredited!