by Andrea Brown
“Are you a Mary or a Martha?”
We’ve all asked ourselves this question after reading the account in Luke 10. Most likely, with regret, we have shamefully admitted we are Marthas. We want to identify as Mary, but find ourselves endlessly cleaning, forever cooking, and from laundry to family schedules we rarely make time to listen and rest at the feet of Jesus.
As Christians we know God uniquely gifted us with our own personalities, talents, passions, etc. We can delight in knowing this! We can also admire these gifts in someone else and not envy knowing God Himself created us differently for His good and holy purpose.
I find it spiritually refreshing God knew and designed Martha to just be “Martha”. He knew that Martha would do well and have her own home, he knew that she would love her sister and her brother, that she would be gifted in showing hospitality to others, and that she would use her time and her talent and her treasure to serve Him. Martha was designed by God to be the organizational architect in times of need.
The Lord also knew that Martha would have a rough day, or two. Brief moments of mayhem with dishes to be washed, and a rude glare at her sister would cause her to lose focus of what is important by taking her eyes off of Christ. She would allow herself to get distracted and worried about things of little importance, and as a result would give Jesus things that He had not asked for, instead of surrendering to give what was better.
But Jesus also knew that with a gentle rebuke, Martha’s heart would not turn bitter but would turn back to Him, and she would once again take joy in serving her Lord. Jesus knew Martha loved Him, and more importantly Jesus loved Martha (John 11:5).
You cannot help but feel a little sorry for Martha, after all she is remembered mostly for the moment she was corrected by Jesus, but that one moment wasn’t her whole life. Although we don’t know a lot, we do get to see a few places where she got it right.
Our girl Martha lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, she lived there with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus, all distinctly different personalities and all of them loved by the Lord (see again John 11:5). Martha was well known and prosperous (she owned her own home) in her community. She showed hospitality to Jesus and his disciples by opening her home and serving them meals. She and her family were well thought of and liked by their community, with many coming to mourn with the sisters when their brother Lazarus had died (John 11:19).
Focusing on Martha’s gift of hospitality, we see in Luke 10:40 exactly where things start to go wrong. It says, “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” With those distractions, she becomes demanding of the Lord and rude to her sister. Jesus then rebukes Martha, but not for who she is or for how she is gifted. After all He has stopped at this home and has enjoyed this family on several occasions. Martha’s house is often referred to Jesus’ home away from home, and they are familiar enough with each other that Martha makes demands, treating Jesus almost like a brother. Jesus’ gentle rebuke is because Martha is “worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed.”
Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).
Have you ever made decisions, or sacrifices, or perhaps served in some way that you thought was worshipful, but then later found out it really wasn’t what the Lord wanted from you at all?
Have you ever ‘not’ done something you felt called to do because all you could think about were the amount of organizational intricacies it would take to actually accomplish it?
That’s our Martha. She too wanted to be able to listen at the feet of Jesus, but felt she couldn’t because beds still needed to be made up, rooms still needed cleaning, and she had several dishes cooking at once and wanted them served and eaten while still hot. Maybe Martha’s problem was thinking she needed to do all these things to show Jesus she loved Him instead of reflecting on what Jesus actually was asking of her. Mary understood. She knew that in the grand scheme of things, when reflecting back on that very night, years later, she would not remember the well set table or the meal served hot and on time, but she would remember every word that the Son of God said to her as they sat face to face, and that would not be taken from her.
When we think about practicing hospitality in our home, we can become distracted and start to worry and be upset about many things. My house looks more like an animal barn than it does the Pottery Barn, I fail at every meal I find on Pinterest, as soon as my kids are a little older I can do more, etc. God is not asking any of this from us as they are not his requirements and sacrifices asked of us. The only thing you need to do is bring people face to face with Jesus. And it could look like a cup of tea and store bought cookies, or it could be a five course meal. What your guest will remember is if you sat down with them and really listened, if you cared about what was going on in their lives, and whatever that may be, you loved an encouraged them through it all. We need to worry less about showing how well we can care, and simply care for people well. The Person matters more than the place setting.
We don’t get to hear Martha’s response to Jesus’ correction but we do see her again when Lazarus has died and Jesus once again comes to her home in Bethany. She and her sister are mourning her brother along with many others, and when she hears that Jesus has finally come, she is able to set aside her grief to go out to greet him and bid him welcome. And in conversing with Jesus we get a glimpse of how she may have taken her rebuke humbly. When Jesus asks her if she believes He is who He says He is (John 11:25-26), she declares her faith in full without hesitation, being specific in who she knows him to be, The Christ, the one prophesied about, The Son of God, a confession of His deity, and He Who Was to Come into the World, God come as man.
God is a God of second chances (or seventy times seven, Matthew 18:22), so later, a few days before Passover and shortly before His death we see Martha again with a chance at a do-over. In chapter 12 of John, Jesus is in Bethany, at a dinner in His honor, Martha is once again using her gift, and serving, while her brother Lazarus sits at the table and Mary pours perfume on the feet of Jesus. Here, the encouragement lies in what is not written, for there is nothing written about Martha thinking about what is fair and unfair to her, nothing written about her behaving badly to her family, and nothing written about her being distracted or worried. Somewhere between “Martha, Martha” and this night perhaps she had learned to let Mary be Mary, and she would Mary in her Martha just a bit; taking joy listening to the Lord and creating the entire atmosphere of John 12 for Jesus to simply be Jesus.