Martha – The woman Jesus loved!

Woman of God Series

Strong’s concordance 3136. Martha…

Names are supposed to tell us something, right? In this case, we learn she is Martha, a Christian woman, and we are told she is the sister of Mary and Lazarus of Bethany.

That is pretty much it. But over time we have created an entire mythology around her. She is hasty, she’s a worrier, she suffers from anxiety, she was impatient. In fact, one Bible dictionary calls her bitter and provoking!

Martha, original image by @BidariArt

I love a good but. But! Did you realize. There are very few people the bible says Jesus loved, that are identified by name. The disciple John and Lazarus and Martha! Not Mary, but Martha – the one we all get such a downer on.

Yes. John 13:23, we read “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side” – we know John here is talking about himself. (John 19:26).

But in John 11:5 we read, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus”.

“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus”.

John 11:5

So, what does the Bible actually tell us about Martha?

The facts

She appears in 2 bible passages and is mentioned 12 times in total.

Luke 10:38-41

The Luke 10:38-41 story is the one we mostly remember her for.

It occurs in the 3rd year of Jesus ministry – at the beginning of that year. This is important, as you will see.

Here we learn she is probably wealthy, she owned the home that she opened for Jesus, she lived there with her brother and sister.

She was distracted with serving.

In indignation, she asked Jesus to send Mary to her, to help.

Jesus lovingly reproofs her for allowing her concerns to take her away from worshipping Him (as so ably described by my friend Charlene Warwick in a LIVE she once presented on this passage). She put serving before the worship of Jesus. Please note, Jesus does not shame her! He never shames! He convicts, He may re-direct, He definitely teaches and in compassion reaches out and forgives. But NEVER shames!

John 11:1-12:7

This also happens in the 3rd year, towards the end of that year. We read that not only do the Jews decide to kill Jesus, but also Lazarus.

Lazarus is ill and dies. (revise the story)

Martha is the one who comes out to meet Jesus when he arrives – Mary is the one who stays at home grieving. Martha goes to the one whom she knows can bring her brother back – see v. 22. She knows and believes in Him! Then … let us read this.

See her amazing confession! So, we remember her for being anxious, but not for believing, not for being loved, not for her faith!

Then when we see her serving again in Ch12 at the opening, no longer is she impatient. She is at peace.

Let us try to understand all this.

Women in first century had no position in their society. They were considered less than! Their role was to serve, to be silent and not heard. We learn that the Jews thought you could divorce a woman for burning the bread – Jesus sets them straight about that btw, in the last week of his ministry. However, that is after these two events. Yet, it gives you an image of what they thought of women!

We are towards the end of Jesus Ministry. He has healed the woman with a blood flow, he’s looked after the widow, He’s conversed with the Samaritan woman, and forgiven the adulterous woman. He accepted women as part of His retinue and accepted their help financially, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. We see a picture emerging that Jesus loved and accepted woman as equal, He treated them with dignity and affirmation.

And so, the picture opens, and Mary is sitting at Jesus feet. This is a position reserved for men only, and only those who were the closest disciples of a rabbi. What does that tell you about Mary? She has chosen to worship Jesus and sit under his teaching.

Could Martha have done that too? Absolutely! However, as the older sister, and hostess, she is taking on the role that she understands from a cultural perspective is designated for her. Yet! Do not get Martha wrong in this, gifted with hospitality, she is no less a devoted friend of Christ and, as we learn, much loved by Him! Her affectionate care for the hospitable entertainment of Jesus, mentioned twice in the gospels, is such an amazing ministry! (Speaking as someone who literally sucks at this sort of thing!) She wanted the best for her Lord. And so, she is anxious to make it happen. Yet, when she comes to remonstrate with Him for keeping Mary, Jesus tells her, that Mary has chosen what was right, to worship Him, not just to serve Him. As in Eccl 3, there is a time for everything, and this time Mary chose the right of it.

And we see that Martha learns from that. In our second meeting with her, it is she who comes out to meet Jesus. She who shows her faith. And she who promptly confesses His Lordship.

One of the Bible dictionaries gave a great analogy, Mary was a bit like John, and Martha like Peter! And we see that Jesus responds to them accordingly, at the death of Lazarus, He patiently teaches Martha calling her to hope and faith in Him, whilst with Mary He shows a more emotional response, He is deeply moved.

What do we learn?

Burnout happens when we focus on serving before worshipping Him!

From this we learn. We need to remember to worship Jesus first, have that as our main priority. Let’s not get too caught up in the details of life so we forget why we are here – what is our purpose. There is time to listen and worship and a time to work and serve. Burnout happens when we focus on serving before worshipping and renewing from Him. I think it is a good lesson to remind us to spend the mornings with Him in devotion so we can spend the day serving Him in his kingdom.

And don’t expect Jesus to respond to you the same way He does to others – Jesus responds to each of us according to our need!

Key verse:

John 10:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

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