Women of the Bible: Mary and Martha — Samantha Harvey

We have limited knowledge of those close to Jesus during His time on earth. Most of them include the apostles but we read of a few others that fellowshipped with Jesus on a more personal level. Mary and Martha are prime examples. It is interesting to see how these women are mentioned by name and appear in more than one gospel account. Though their stories only encompass a few paragraphs, we can learn much from what their hearts reveal.

In Luke gospel account, Martha welcomes Jesus into her house. While her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to His word, Martha is “cumbered with much serving” (Luke 10:40). The Greek word for cumbered means “to be driven about mentally, to be distracted, i. e. to be over-occupied, too busy, about a thing.” Here Martha is busy as a bee trying to serve her company and Mary, in Martha’s eyes, is just sitting and visiting. Do you have a sibling? I do and I can empathize with Martha about feeling like she has been left to do all the work while her sister gets to have the fun. Martha approaches Jesus, the Higher Authority, and says “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (v. 40). Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, 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” (vs. 41-42).

It’s worth noting that Jesus defends Mary from criticism a second time and this instance is recorded in three out of the four gospel accounts (Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8). Mary anoints Jesus with costly fragrant oil and the disciples accuse her of being wasteful, offering that she could have sold it and given that money to the poor. Jesus rebukes them saying “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:3-9). Mary’s actions were and still are a living testimony of Peter’s instructions to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6). God spoke through Jeremiah in a letter to the elders who were carried away as captives to Babylon, saying, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).  Its relevance was the same for Mary as it is for us today.

So we know where Mary’s heart was. What about Martha’s heart?  Martha loved Jesus and believed in His deity. In John 11, Martha sent for Jesus when her brother Lazarus was sick and went out to meet Him when she heard He was on His way. She said to Jesus that if He had been there her brother would not have died and that God would give Him whatever He asked of Him. She trusted in Jesus as God’s mediator. He told her that her brother would rise again, yet she misunderstood it to be in the resurrection at the end of time. Jesus taught her that He was the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:25-26).  He asked her if she believed this. She confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. Martha then called for Mary and they took Jesus to the tomb. Jesus told them to remove the stone and Martha spoke up, warning Jesus about a stench since Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40)

Jesus once said, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  What do Martha’s words tell us about her heart? It first tells us that her priorities need to be adjusted. Samuel was told, “…the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Jesus loved Martha and He obviously saw that Martha’s heart was on the right track, but she needed more teaching. Martha was distracted about many things and was missing out on the most important objective: preparing her heart. Earthly things can be put off and will be taken away one day, but the content of our hearts cannot be taken away. Hearts don’t come into this world knowing right.  They must be taught right from wrong. We can only know what is right by knowing God. She who knows Jesus knows God. How many of us today have the opportunity to sit at Jesus’s feet and learn directly from the very Word of God? We can read about it historically, but Martha had the privilege of being there with Him face-to-face and didn’t seem inclined to take advantage of that.

Secondly, Martha’s words tell us that she needed to learn how to put her beliefs into practice. Martha understood the power of Jesus and knew to ask Him for help and yet questioned Him when He said to remove the stone from Lazarus’s grave after all He had revealed to her.  The Bible says, “Apply your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2).  Consider Luke 6:46-48.  Jesus wanted Martha to dig deep and build a foundation that would withstand the floods.

We are like Martha and Mary. Just as Jesus was patient with Martha, we need to be patient with ourselves and others. As long as we live on this earth, our hearts still need teaching. We are sinners, and yet the abundance of our hearts must reflect the goodness that comes from God. Seek Him with all your heart and you will find Him. Read your Bible as often as you can. It’s ok if the house isn’t 100% clean.  Take the time to teach God’s Word to your children and anyone who will listen. Teach them how to love others. Take the time to do good for others. Fill up your spiritual cup. Put God first.

Samantha and her family live in Florence, SC.

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