A Note from Chris Adams: Whether you lean more toward being like Mary, quietly sitting at the feet of Jesus or Martha’s busy preparations for taking care of her guests, both women were very special to Jesus and both ministered to Him in unique ways. We need Marys and Marthas in our lives and in our ministries! Read part 1 of this article by guest writer, Courney Veasay, and watch for part 2 on Wednesday.
I am not an organized person. Rarely do I host large group gatherings in my apartment because when I do, the effort it takes to shuffle the piles of books, papers, and other collected “stuff,” from my living room to less visible locations (a.k.a. my closets), is just too much. And I wouldn’t mind leaving the mess; it doesn’t bother me in the least…but if I didn’t clean, there would literally be no place for guests to sit comfortably. I appreciate hard work, but my preference is to sit with others and talk all day. I project this tendency might in the future lead me to being more poor than I already am, thus I’ll probably end up moving in with my older sister at some point. (So, Jenn, keep the guest room clear.) I cry easily, though usually more in private settings than in public. I typically don’t care too much what others think, and I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself over my love for Jesus. Sound like anyone else you’ve met before in Scripture? How about pensive, weepy, Mary of Bethany? Yep, she’s my soul sister for sure.
And then there’s Mary’s sister. You know, Martha, the one who’s had this 2,000 year old stigma attached to her as being a sort of spiritually-distracted slave driver. Talk about a PR nightmare! Oh, but I love Martha. I love the “Marthas” in my life, and as a “Mary” type person, I know that I need those “Marthas” to keep me on track. I venture to guess that a majority of women’s ministry leaders, whether by their own admission or from what others have said, fall into the “Martha” camp because they are by nature women who get things done when they need to be done (and sometimes when they don’t). If this is true of you, then you should be flattered that you bear resemblance to this remarkable woman of the faith. More likely, however, the designation of being a “Martha” has been posed oppositely to you, and you’ve felt more embarrassed than honored to be associated with her name. Here’s the thing…Martha only gets a bad wrap if she’s (poorly) considered by Luke’s account alone, but not when it’s remembered (and preached) that John also had a little something say about this hard-working woman from Bethany!
The more well-known version of Martha is found in Luke 10:38-42. Yes, her distracted busyness is accounted for there, and should not be dismissed, but what else do we find? First, in verse 38, Luke tells us it is Martha’s home that Jesus and His crew have been welcomed into. The pressure to be a good hostess in the first century was no different than what women feel in the twenty-first century, especially when the party is in YOUR HOME. (Although Martha didn’t have to deal with our Pinterest-crazed culture.) Not only did Martha have her brother Lazarus and sister Mary living with her (and who knows what other family members), but apparently she made her home available to outsiders in need as well. Martha’s actions reflect a tremendously gracious and well-organized person.
She was also one who prayed with honesty and boldness. In verse 40, Luke portrays that Martha unhesitatingly approached Jesus, demanding that He tell Mary to help a sistah out! Martha, like so many of us, was requesting something from Jesus that by His own design, He would not agree to. For Jesus to force Mary into helping her sister, would mean He would be infringing upon Mary’s right to free will. Both sisters in the story make choices, and this freedom to choose is something God will not take away from any of us (not your child, your husband, your ex-boyfriend, boss, etc.). Instead Jesus responds to Martha first by saying her name twice. Typically in our culture, if an authority figure repeats your name or calls you by your full name, you have really done something wrong; the same was not true in first century Jewish culture and customs. In fact, for Jesus to say her name twice, was a sign of endearment. (Also see this same way of addressing Saul in Acts 9:4.) Rather than Him shaking His head while lamenting, “Martha, Martha,” a more accurate description would be of Jesus looking at her and basically saying, “Martha, comrade…” Jesus loved Martha as much as He did Mary, and His correction to her was under girded by this love.
Then perhaps the best part of Luke’s account of these sisters comes after Jesus’ reply. Did you notice? Nothing more is said there about this story. One is left wondering, how did it end? Did Martha actually stop and sit for a while? Did she bitterly march back to the kitchen? Did she later ask Mary what she had missed of Jesus’ earlier teaching? The reality is, Luke doesn’t tell us, and I kind of like it that way. The account is left open-ended, because just like with our lives, until we take our final breath, the story is never over. It’s always underway! And thank goodness for Martha (and us), John, one of Jesus’ own disciples, would later pick up where Luke the physician left off and tell us a little more of the rest of her story.
Watch for Part 2 of this series on Wednesday!
Courtney Veasey is a native Floridian and has lived and held various ministry positions in South Carolina, Northern California, and Louisiana. Currently, she is the Director of Women’s Academic Study Programs at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Courtney holds degrees from Florida Southern College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently working on her doctorate in Biblical Interpretation also from New Orleans Seminary. She also currently enjoys traveling as a speaker for girls and women’s ministry events.