To the Martha's of the Church...
I have a sister, she is amazing. She is younger than me and she is different from me. She can sing, play instruments, she is impassioned and imaginative and has amazing red hair.
We grew up in an amazing musical family. They would sit around and play the piano, guitar, banjo, fiddle and autoharp. Please notice I said they, it was not me, my only contribution was the triangle or the cowbell only when they thought of it and then I had to wait till they pointed to me to play it.
There were many times as the older sister, I wanted so badly for what they had. I wanted to carry a tune, I wanted to be able to sit down, put my finger on my ear and act like I know what key the song is in and then find that coordinating key on the piano or on the guitar and start making music. I also always wished I could remember all the lyrics to all the songs, clearly a key attribute to a good singer, right?
I had to learn to sit with Papa on the couch and enjoy the music. I had to learn that I could stay in the same room and enjoy the music. I could color, write, clean or sit but all still be present with the music.
No one ever pitted our skills, talents, and gifts against each other. We do that well on our own.
I share this because I look at sisters like Mary and Martha in the bible who have been pitted against each other in the interpretation of Luke 10 and John 11/23 in God’s word. I feel strongly that Jesus never intended for us to interpret the text this way. It is easy to do at first glance but when you compare scripture with scripture, look at the bible as a whole and taste and see that God the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit are good, pitting His Image Bearers against each other is not evident.
Let’s walk through this narrative with a different type of comb, not a pick comb but a let’s first spray some conditioner on this tangle, then use a comb that can work through it.
Biblically I identify as a Martha in the bible. I am thankful for Martha in the bible. One theologian calls Martha as practical, active and outspoken. She is hospitable, she gets things done, she moves at a quick pace, she orgazines, she sees needs ahead of time and starts getting a move. This is how she is gifted, equipped and even more so how she serves and worship’s her savior, Jesus. (who she gets to do this all in person, one day we all will.)
Mary and Martha are sisters and living in a quiet village beside the Jericho Road, both were Jesus for most of his ministry. Fun fact: They were the first two women recorded in the NT to witness Jesus’s expression of grief for his friend - when He wept in (Jn 11:35)
They were with Jesus for the long haul of His time on earth. .
Story of Martha in context to Lazarus:
“Martha then said to Jesus when calling to him to raise her brother Lazarus from the grave. ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you’” (John 11:21-22).Where is Mary? In verse 29 we find out that she is in the house, mourning. She only comes to Jesus when he calls her. Jesus did not admonish or rebuke her actions. Jesus knows her heart, she needed to sit and mourn the loss of her brother.
Also a few verses we see Jesus for the first time to declare publicly but also personally to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26)
Can’t you hear her now? Like YES Lord I get you! She actually says, “ Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” I just love this interaction between them, it is an affirmation, a sharing of information, it is a friendship.
Let’s go to the story of Mary and Martha in their home with Jesus.
Let’s go back to the text in Luke 10:38 where Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me alone to serve alone? The question is asked in the original text in a way that she expects Jesus to be on her behalf.
He does not intervene; he does something only Jesus would do, his reply is full of compassion for Martha’s anxiety.
How do we know that? By addressing Martha, Martha twice. “Martha, Martha” (41).
Jesus rebukes Martha not for her choice of actions but for her attitude about Mary’s choice. (Side note, in Jewish culture for a woman to sit at the rabbi’s feet was not allowed. Even Mary was breaking culture norms and laws and Jesus did not rebuke or admonish her. He saw her heart, her desire to learn and to be calm. That can be a whole other conversation :)
There is a great article out there called Mary Needs Martha written by Giles Constable and he breaks down the struggle we have trying to understand the relationship between Mary and Martha. He writes that we can view them as individuals in a stand alone state or we can use them against each other but ultimately he wraps it up with we need both of them together to work well for the body of Christ.
He reminds us that Both Augustine and Gregory the Great, for example, saw Martha's life as the positive temporal necessity which prepares for Mary's life of eternal good. For such thinkers, "all life on earth was mixed".
He also says, “It was fashionable to describe good women as combining the virtues of Mary and Martha, and male leaders-bishops and abbots-were also praised for combining the practical and the theoretical. The distinction between the two sisters was emphasized primarily in monastic discourse, where Mary as a type of the hermit or monk's life was preferred to Martha, who represented the secular clergy or laity.”
Martha was doing with her hands what 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
She was doing with her hands what Colossians 3:17 says, , “ And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The kicker is that she was not loving the Lord her God with all her heart, soul and mind. She had a moment where she was not living out Psalms 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
As we all have been hopefully convicted by the Holy Spirit, that was the conversation that we were able to experience as Jesus rebukes Martha for her heart.
What is our take away, don’t let the world tell you can’t be a Martha or a Mary. Don’t let them tell you that one is better than the other. Jesus never implied that in the text. He never looked at Peter and said, stop asking these ridiculous questions.
Jesus meets us where we are at - He is not in the business of rebuking our actions if our actions are not in sin. He is the business of changing our hearts, especially when we are not walking in righteousness.