God’s People, part 179: Martha of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

“A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.”  (John 12:2, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-mary-marthaPart 179: Martha of Bethany. Martha has been the subject of many of sermons, devotions and even sections of books regarding women of faith. She was the sister of Mary and Lazarus and, along with her sister and brother, she was a close friend to Jesus of Nazareth. It is uncertain as to how Jesus became friends with them, whether or not they were long-time family friends. What we do know is that Jesus had a profound love for them and it is Jesus’ interactions with Martha and Mary where we see Jesus in his most profoundly human moments.

Martha clearly had a profound belief in Jesus. In the Gospel According to John, Martha was the woman who first approached Jesus when he arrived at her brother’s funeral. She was actively grieving the death of Lazarus, and she was visibly upset with Jesus who had not come in her brother’s time of need. She cried out to him, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Yet, Martha also believed in Jesus. Her faith was clearly placed in him and so she followed her initial grief-filled comment with this heart-felt statement of faith, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha knew, even if she could not help being angry at the whole situation, that Jesus was the answer to all questions. While she could not understand why her brother was allowed to die, she trusted in Jesus all the same.

It was also Martha who was notorious for being eager to serve. In the Gospel According to John 12:1-8, Martha was the one who prepared and served the meal in Simon the Leper’s house. This was the meal at which Martha’s sister, Mary, anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Martha was always busy serving Jesus in whatever way she could. She was a woman of GREAT hospitality.

With that said, sometimes her desire to serve also stood in her way. Like all human beings, Martha was not without her flaws. In the Gospel According to Luke, we see such as scene where Martha’s desire to serve brought her to scold her sister, Mary. Jesus had been visiting their house and Martha was busy being the hostess.

Culturally speaking, it was a great honor to have a teacher such as Jesus visit their home and the women of the house would work hard to make sure that the special guest received the “royal treatment”, as it were. Thus, Martha was working hard to show extraordinary hospitality to Jesus; however, Mary was sitting by Jesus’ side listening to his teaching and engaging in conversation.

Martha was incensed. That was no place for the likes of her sister to be. She ought to have been helping Martha in showing hospitality to Jesus. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” Jesus replied to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

While I am sure that interaction was humiliating to Martha, it teaches us a great deal about ourselves as well. It challenges us to pause and really reflect on whether or not we are putting our efforts in the right place. Sometimes we work and work on all of the wrong things. Or, perhaps what we are working on is good to an extent, but it is not what is ULTIMATELY GOOD.

This should challenge us to see where we are spending all of our efforts. Are they being invested in listening and following Jesus, or are they being put into the façade that the church can often become? Are our efforts invested in Jesus Christ, or are we putting on a “dinner theater” party that, ultimately misses the mark? Let us reflect on that and adjust, accordingly, to where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

“Jesus is the answer. Now, what’s the question?” – Karl Barth

Lord, help me to invest my time in you and you alone. Let all other things fade, for you alone are the answer! Amen.

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