How did Jesus know Mary, Martha and Lazarus? Mary and Martha (and their brother Lazarus) were some of Jesus’ closest friends. John 11:5 tells us “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” The story of Mary and Martha gives us amazing insight into their personalities and teaches us some important lessons.
This family believed Jesus was the Messiah and saw Him bring their brother back to life. Jesus spent some of his last days on earth in their comfortable home. I wanted to write a blog post on sisters, and these two women caught my eye.
Jesus Visits Mary and Martha
Mary and Martha Scripture
We get this story from the Gospel of Luke:
“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42. NKJV.
What jumps out at you from this conversation?
I haven’t studied this story extensively, so my first reaction is Wow! That takes a lot of nerve to get snappy with the Messiah when you’re having a tiff with your sis!
But I get it, Martha. I’ve been on the receiving end of doing the lion’s share of the kitchen work while others sit around. It doesn’t seem fair.
Martha’s complaint seems legitimate. Maybe Martha had already asked Mary to help, and she ignored her. (We’ll never know.)
Either way, there are great lessons to learn from these sisters.
Martha of the Bible
“Martha opened her home to him.” V 38.
Mary and Martha lived in the small village of Bethany; just a couple of miles east of Jerusalem. Martha was the one who graciously invites her dear friend Jesus and His disciples into her home.
There was no “calling ahead”, so I assume they just showed up on her doorstep! Martha’s gift of hospitality shows what a giving person she was.
What did Martha do in the Bible?
This story takes place at the home of Martha, which makes her the head of the household. It is also large enough to accommodate the large group of Jesus and his disciples for lodging, and she had enough food to feed them all. This hints at some degree of affluence.
Some believe Martha was the older sister, and perhaps she was used to being “in charge.” (I’m an older sister… we sometimes have a reputation!)
The story of Martha shows her courageous side by having a close friendship with Jesus and housing Him. It was dangerous to associate too closely with Him, as the authorities were trying to find a way to kill Jesus. (John 7: 25-32)
She was willing to face the consequences, however, and let everyone know of her devotion to Him.
She was also very busy serving this day.
“Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” v40a.
Jesus was teaching and speaking to the gathered group. Meanwhile, Martha was busy making sure her guests were comfortable and well fed.
We should commend her for her gift of service in seeing to the needs of others. Domestic work would have been the norm for women in her time. She was simply doing the good works expected of her.
Martha and Mary
Martha’s sister Mary, who instead of helping her with the domestic chores was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” v39.
Martha, possibly hot and tired from cooking and cleaning, went to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” v40b.
Apparently, Martha was so comfortable with Jesus that she has no problem venting her frustration. She didn’t ask Jesus what His opinion was, she boldly told him what to do! We could kindly call her behavior outspoken and straightforward.
Martha wanted Mary to behave in the traditional woman’s role of Biblical times. It was unthinkable for a woman to sit at a rabbi’s feet and listen to him teach. Girls stayed in the home, illiterate, while the boys went to school.
Women could only congregate in the Women’s Court of the Temple, nowhere near the men. So for Mary to plop down at Jesus’s feet and listen to his teaching among a group of men was remarkable!
Mary of Bethany
We see very little of this Mary in the Bible. A common question that comes up is Mary and Martha the same as Mary Magdalene?
This Mary shouldn’t be confused with Mary Magdalene. On the occasions we do see her, Mary of Bethany is always in the same place- at the feet of Jesus.
Mary at the Feet of Jesus
•Luke mentions her as sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His Word.
•When Jesus returns to their home after her brother Lazarus died, she went to Jesus and “fell at his feet.” (John 11:32).
•Just six days before the Passover, Mary was present at a dinner given in Jesus’ honor. Again, with Martha serving (!), Mary took an expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet:
“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John 12:3.
Pure nard was expensive and the amount Mary used was worth a year’s wages. It was a beautiful picture of her devotion.
Mary seems to have a deeply spiritual side. She is willing to forego the traditions of the day to learn all she could of Jesus’ teaching. (For all we know, she may have even encouraged Martha to join her!)
She fell at His feet for comfort when she was in deep grief.
She showed her deep love, reverence, and worship of Jesus by honoring Him with an expensive gift of perfume.
Why did Jesus say Martha, Martha?
“Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” vv41-42(NKJV)
Jesus’ gentle rebuke was said with a calming, tender patience. It upset Martha that something she considered of utmost importance- preparing food and caring for Jesus and His disciples- was left solely up to her.
Mary, however, prioritized listening to Jesus over domestic chores. Jesus was ignoring the traditional role of women and encouraging Mary’s desire to listen and learn.
He didn’t say that Martha’s service was unimportant. Jesus made it clear that service to others is an important part of His ministry.
But He wanted Martha to realize two important truths. First, being His disciple and learning about His teachings were the most important thing. All other things are secondary.
Second, Jesus gently reminds her she was “worried and upset about many things.” Martha’s activity as a superb hostess caused her anxiety, hard feelings towards her sister, and an outburst towards Jesus.
Had she calmly gone to Jesus with her dilemma, He would have advised her and helped her work it out. This was a much-needed lesson for me!
Lessons from Mary and Martha
Martha vs Mary?
There is much written about the “battle of the sisters” in this story. Many can sympathize with poor Martha!
I would like to think it is not about a battle or rivalry, but a look into two personalities that are both valuable and full of God-honoring purpose.
Consider these two Bible verses:
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:9.
Clearly, Martha had the gift of hospitality. It does not come naturally to all, and it may not have been Mary’s strong suite.
And these two:
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” Luke 4:4 NKJV
“The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63 NKJV.
I’d love to add an exclamation point to that verse from the Gospel of John, but it’s not in the text!♥
Mary made the right choice–listening to the life-giving words of Jesus. Mary was not being lazy. She simply was prioritizing correctly at that point in time.
What Can We Learn from Mary and Martha?
We probably all have a bit of both Mary and Martha inside of us.
•Our priorities, however, matter. It is essential that we make time to sit at the feet of Jesus!
•Do not let our busy lives and acts of service get in the way of spending time in His Word.
•Anxiety doesn’t solve problems; Jesus does.
•Acts of service/hospitality are a mark of discipleship. But they should come from a heart overflowing with Jesus’ love which we develop by studying His Word. Fill up, listen and learn, and grow strong in His Word.
The story of Mary and Martha shows us two women who Jesus loved dearly. But He would rather have you sitting at His feet while He feeds you before you go out in the world to preform acts of service in His name.
May we see from this story He desires the worship of Mary and the work of Martha in the correct balance!
Blessings of Balance!
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
Photo Credits: Johannes Vermeer, Pixabay