Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus are famous in the church for their interactions with Jesus. Martha is famous for serving and being rebuked by Jesus for making the wrong choice of serving instead of listening, while Mary is famous for the good choice of sitting at Jesus feet and listening (Luke 10:38-42). At issue here is whether a single interaction should define our legacy and the need for a deeper look at Martha and her heart. After all, I suspect that most of us would not want our life defined by one mistake we made.
We are told to not judge a book by the cover yet for most of us Martha being rebuked by Jesus is the cover of her book! Aside from this interaction in Luke 10 it is helpful to see what else scripture tells us about Martha. To attempt to discern her heart based on what scripture reveals. let’s leave Mary out of the picture and focus in on Martha. We have the following interaction just prior to Jesus raising Lazarus.
20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:20–27 (NKJV)
We learn from Martha’s interaction with Jesus that she had faith in Jesus ability to heal and that she recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah (the terms Christ and Messiah are interchangeable and both mean The Anointed One). Martha was confident in who Jesus was and trusted Him. We next see Martha after Lazarus has been raised.
1Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. John 12:1–2 (NKJV)
Martha had a heart to serve and she clearly loved and honoured Jesus. It is significant as this meal takes place at the home of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6-7, Mark 14:3). We can safely assume Simon had been healed as a leper would not be hosting a meal in his house. Thus we know that Martha is serving in the home of someone else. This time we have no record of any rebuke by Jesus and Martha is not contrasted with Mary who extravagantly pours perfume on Jesus. She is merely noted as one who has a servant’s heart.
A last look at Martha through the eyes of scripture. I doubt this short verse spring to mind when we think of Martha but there it is recorded in scripture for all to see.
5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV
Knowing that Jesus loved Martha I think there are two primary lessons we can draw from what we know about Martha. First, serving Jesus and others is good thing. After all there are numerous calls to service in the scriptures. Micah 6:8, said to be a summary statement of the Law, it is a call to justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. A call to service. The second lesson is that serving when we should be sitting at His feet is the wrong choice just as sitting in contemplation when He is calling us to action is also a bad thing. Let us embrace serving and sitting, seeking Jesus heart and the wisdom to know when to serve and when to sit at His feet.