Summary: Often overshadowed by her sister Mary, Martha is often marginalized as an undesirable example of for disciples. However, when examined through the lens of scripture and not popular Christian books, Martha shines through as an example for all godly women.
When I survey the women of the New Testament, I find some remarkable women of faith, Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38) is the first to come to mind. But, there are others, such as Joanna, Susanna and Mary Magalene (Luke 8:1-3). Later on, I read about Priscilla who, along with her husband, risked her life for Paul (Romans 16:1-3). Then there is Lois and Eunice, a faithful mother and grandmother who instilled their faith in young Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5). Several are mentioned in Romans 16:1-16 and there are many more women I could site as well. However, there is one woman, who until recently, would not have made it into the top tier of my list (if she made it at all) and that is Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. It is not because the scriptures do not present her as a faithful woman. Rather, it is because of my ignorance and misconceptions of this marvelous woman of faith. I would like share with you my fresh perspective on Martha. I want us to view her through the lens of faithfulness. Now, was she perfect? No. But who is? Contrary to my past view, Martha was a woman of deep faith, who loved her Lord and was loved by Him, and who is worthy of emulation. For our lesson, we will take an in-depth look the three passages where Martha appears Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-44; and John 12:1-8. Then, at the end I’ll share two important lessons I learned from this fresh perspective on Martha.
Martha’s Much Serving (Luke 10:38-42):
(38) As Jesus and the disciples, “went on their way, Jesus entered a village” named Bethany. There “a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.”
(39) Like any good hostess, Martha quickly got busy serving her honored guest and His companions. Instead of helping her sister Martha, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching.” Perhaps she has started to wash His feet but never got up and continued to listen to Him teach.
(40) Mind you, Martha would have been listening to Jesus teach but she was “distracted by much serving.” Note that she was not distracted with serving, but with “much serving.” It was not the basics of hospitality (cf. Luke 7:44-47) that distracted or troubled her (v. 41), it was her going above and beyond what was necessary, it was “much serving” that took her attention away from her Lord and caused her to snap at her sister. In her agitation, she “went up to [Jesus] and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?’” Martha was a good, thoughtful and faithful woman. She desired to show her special guest the best hospitality she could possible provide. She would have been at Jesus’ feet as well, if, in her mind there was not so “much” to do. I think this is at the heart of her frustration, she essentially asked Jesus, “Don’t You care that I can’t listen to You teach because Mary want help me get the work done around here. I have not had a chance to sit down all day. Tell her to help me so I can sit down and listen as well.” I have never gotten into trouble by simply supply the basics of life, it is when I go above and beyond, when I desire the much that I get myself into trouble.
(41-42) Martha was obviously frustrated, yet Jesus did not respond as if she was hostile. By doubling her name, “Martha, Martha,” Jesus expressed a loving concern to her outburst. This was not a “get behind me Satan” moment (cf. Matthew 16:23). Rather, it was our Lord tenderly correcting Martha by bringing her focus to where it needed to be. Martha was “anxious and troubled about many things” that she thought were necessary at that time not only for herself to be doing but Mary as well (cf. Luke 8:7, 14; 12:22-34). However, in Jesus’ eyes, “only one thing was necessary” and “Mary ha[d] chosen” it and it would “not be taken away from her.” That is, Jesus would not take from Mary her time with her Savior. It should be noted that Jesus didn’t correct Martha until she becomes critical of Mary. For me, that begs the question, why did Jesus do it then? I would submit that it wasn’t Martha’s service or caring about the needs of her guest that was wrong (remember she is a faithful, thoughtful, and caring woman); it was her attitude that was wrong and Jesus corrected her when it all come to a head. The words of 1 Peter 4:9 ring loud and clear in this scene, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” That is what Martha was doing wrong in this passage, and her Lord and Savior brought her back to where she needed to be. I’ll have more to say about this passage in the latter part of this article.