Poor Martha. She always gets such a bad rap for “being worried and bothered about many things” (Lk. 10:41). She was a doer, perhaps a slightly Type A personality (though, not all of us Marthas are actually complete Type As).
Though many people skip over it, previous verses indicate that “MARTHA welcomed Him [Jesus] into her home.” (emphasis added) Not “Martha AND Mary welcomed Him.” Just Martha welcomed him. She was the hostess who was presumably doing things like making the meal, setting out the food, filling drinks, keeping up with everyone’s things, cleaning off dirty feet, etc.
We Marthas know that we are worried and bothered by many things. We see the overflowing trash, the mess on the floor, the sink full of dishes, the dirty laundry, the toilet that needs scrubbing, the sticky fingers on kids. We are the ones doing the majority of the chores and keeping the household in order. We take action, get the job done, and our love language is most likely “acts of service.”
We’re also the ones who get stressed out when visitors are coming over to the house – not because we have an “image” to uphold or that we are trying so much to “impress” the guests. But, more because we want everyone to have a pleasant experience. We want the food to satisfy, the seats to be comfortable, the drinks to be cold, and the friends to feel at home.
But, we feel like we get a bad wrap thanks to this particular verse in Luke’s gospel.
“Why is Jesus calling HER out?” we wonder.
“Who would’ve fed Jesus and his friends if she hadn’t been there doing it?”
“Someone needs to VALIDATE poor Martha for all the work she’s doing!!”
“No one really appreciates all that Martha has done.”
“Oh, sure, MARY is just perfect all the time.”
Yes, this is how Martha herself was probably feeling and it’s generally how us modern-day Marthas feel, too. How practical is what Mary is doing when there are so many other tasks that need completing right now? Can’t she pray at another time?
Yes, the most important thing of all is not necessarily DOING things all the time, but PRAYING. Duh. Nothing new here. There is no chore, no job, no work that supersedes the importance of prayer. There is nothing worth doing that shouldn’t be first begun with a prayer. And, most especially, when IN the presence of Christ, there is not a thing we could be doing that is more important than sitting at the feet of Our Lord.
But, I just wanted to travel over to another gospel that discusses Martha, too. Because, there’s a whole lot more to her than meets the proverbial eye.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” (Jn. 11:5-7)
The first obvious point in this passage of Scripture is in the first sentence – Jesus loved MARTHA (and, the others, of course). Though he gets onto her a bit in the story in Luke’s gospel, there is no denying that Jesus LOVES HER. So, Marthas of the world, we must first take solace in that most important of realities – WE ARE LOVED BY CHRIST, just as we are.
“Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house.”
Once again, Martha is the one who goes out and meets (welcomes??) Jesus when he arrives in Bethany. She knows he will be there and she goes LOOKING FOR HIM. She doesn’t wait for him to show up, but actively pursues. Sure, that can sometimes be a downfall for us doers – when it comes time to pray we begin by going after Christ instead of waiting in quiet and patience for him to show up (as a Mary-type might). But, the point is that WE SEEK HIM in & by our actions.
“Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (Jn. 11:20-27)
The third noticeable point is the conversation between Martha and Jesus. First, she gets a little upset at Jesus (but, guess what, so does Mary, further down in the passage!). It’s a very understandable feeling to be having when THE CHRIST is a personal family friend and your brother has just died. Why would your friend who loves you so much (and, who is also GOD) allow a tragedy to come upon your family? Understandable emotions to be having.
But, then, Martha shows that she is a woman of great faith. Not only does she understand resurrection on the last day, but Jesus straight up asks her if she believes in him and who he is and she says “yes”. How would Martha have these types of insights if all she was doing was keeping busy all the time doing stuff and NOT spending time in prayer and reflection?
The passage continues on with Jesus’ conversation with Mary, Jesus’ feelings of sadness, and eventually Jesus’ answering the prayers and pleadings of BOTH Martha & Mary by bringing their brother back from the dead.
The ironic part of “the doer” of this story is that when Jesus asks Martha to do a specific task (Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone.” (Jn. 11:39-41), she actually gives him a hard time about doing it! She resorts to what she knows best, her comfort zone of focusing on the practicality of this task and whether or not it SHOULD be done. I can almost hear the deep sigh of Christ and see the hand on his brow as firmly reminds Martha that HE IS GOD and knows what he’s doing!
But, the cool thing about being a “doer-type” is that sometimes we are called by the Lord to do very specific (and, sometimes dirty) jobs. We are asked to do them because our Lord, in His wisdom, knows we will GET THEM DONE. But, like Martha, our first response is sometimes to make sure that Jesus knows what He’s asking us to do. Because, we have a handle on things! We know what we’re doing! We get things done! And, we probably think we know better than most others when it comes to getting jobs done effectively and efficiently.
In those moments, our Mary task is to trust the promptings of the Lord because, sometimes the stone that seems like a bad idea to move will reveal a greater joy behind it.
So, yeah, okay. I’m a Martha and I know it. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that being a Martha isn’t so bad. And, not only is it NOT bad, but Martha has a very important role to play in the story of our salvation (need I mention that she’s actually SAINT Martha?) and, thus, I do too.
Besides, if we were all Marys, who would cook dinner?