Monday, April 9, 2007

Three Friends of Jesus

When I read – or reread , since I have read them all- a story in the bible, I love to meditate on it… let it soak in….. turn it around and inside out… look behind it and in between the lines.
It is sometimes amazing how much more it says that the bare words the story is hung on.

I re-read the story yesterday of Mary and Martha and though I have read it many times I always find something new to think about.

Jesus had two purposes in His life – to show us how to live a godly life (He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked – I John 2:6) and also to show us the Father ( “..he that hath seen me has seen the Father “John 14:9)

And so while God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) Jesus as a Man related to the people in His life the way we do… No one person can be intimate with every other person. . Jesus, as a Man, had special relationships. The disciples were specially chosen by Him, and John was the ‘beloved’ of the twelve, and there were those who were known as Jesus ‘friends’.
Three people who had a special relationship with Jesus were Martha, Mary and Lazareth – three siblings who obviously had already lost their parents and were living together. We are given the impression that we were fairly wealthy, because their home was big enough to entertain Jesus and His followers.

Lazerus would have been the provider and it seems he was well known and respected in the community. We are not told much about him. We know that he became ill and died, was buried for three days and then Jesus raised him from the dead. Because many of the Jews believed in Jesus when they saw He had the power to bring someone back from the grave, the jealous Pharisees became angry and plotted to kill Lazarus.
We see Lazarus sitting at his table eating with Jesus, but we lack any recorded communication from him, leaving us to think he must have been a man of few words. After his resurrection we are told that people came to ‘see’ him, not ‘talk’ with him.

Martha was probably the oldest of the three because it was at her invitation that Jesus came to their home.
Martha was an organizer with attention to detail, a server, one who was quick to assess a situation and come up with a plan of action. She was not one to be found with idle hands. She was given to hospitality and loved to entertain guests in her home. I’m sure an invitation to her home was readily accepted.
Martha wanted everything perfect and at times she may have overextended herself. Such was the situation when she found herself with more work than she could do alone, and asked Jesus to rebuke Mary for not helping her.
Jesus answer was given gently,“Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things, but you are missing the one thing that Mary has chosen, and it shall not be taken away from her.”

I believe if the tables had been turned and it would have been Mary who complained saying, “Jesus, I find Martha so annoying – with her banging dishes , and interrupting to ask if anyone wants another drink, and watching her continually moving about, I can’t concentrate on what you are saying. Can’t you tell her to sit down and be quiet?” - I think Jesus’ reply would have been, “Mary, Mary, you are so easily distracted by what is going on around you. Martha is serving others, I will not take that away from her.”

Martha’s gift was serving ( we are admonished to “serve one another”(Gal. 5:13) and “to be given to hospitality”(Rom. !2:13 and we all know that to be a good hostess so people feel comfortable and welcome in your home takes work. What Martha did wrong was to allow her ‘gift’ to make her resentful of others. Instead of serving with a joyful heart and listening at the same time, perhaps later asking Mary to fill what she missed - she was distracted by focusing on what others were doing.
After her brother had died and she heard that Jesus was finally coming to see them, she left the house filled with mourners, to go meet him. No one asked where she was going; they were probably so used to her continual busyness they did not even notice.
While Martha is often cast into a negative light, I don’t think we are justified in doing so.
In John 11:5 we read, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Martha is mentioned first and Mary is not named. Jesus loved Martha …and enjoyed the hospitality in her home.
Not only was it Martha who went out to meet Jesus, it was Martha who came back to call Mary , telling her Jesus was calling for her.
Martha confirmed her faith in Jesus the Messiah when Jesus told her that He was the resurrection and the life and could raise people from the dead. Yet her practical side was strong and her reaction when Jesus asked the tomb stone to be moved away was a natural one –“But, Lord, he will stink!” Jesus needed to remind her of His power over death.

Mary was so different from her sister. Mary was a dreamer , emotional and romantic rather than practical.She could become so engrossed in the present moment that everything around her was tuned out.
She sat with the others at Jesus feet and listened, enraptured at His words – oblivious to the fact that Martha was overworked. I’m sure Martha tried to catch Mary’s eye to ask for help but Mary’s eyes were on Jesus.
Mary was insolable when her brother died, and the mourners who filled their house tried to comfort her. These Jews who did not move when Martha left the house were quick to respond when Mary got up and left the house – they followed her saying, “She is going to the grave to weep there.” When Mary threw herself at Jesus feet, Jesus looking down on her was overcome with compassion for her grief and “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Once more, on the day before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, we see Jesus in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha is again serving, Lazarus is sitting at the table with the other guests , and Mary, the emotional one, takes a bottle of very expensive perfume and pours it out on Jesus’ feet , wiping them with her hair. Jesus rebukes those who criticize her saying, ”Let her alone, against the day of my burying hath she kept this.”
This time we sense there was perfect harmony between the siblings….each doing what they were gifted to do. Martha happily serving, Lazarus, simply by being alive winning many Jews to faith in Jesus, and Mary, oblivious to what was going on around her, focused on expressing her love for Jesus in a demonstrative and personal way.

I often wish I could have known these three special friends of Jesus after Jesus resurrection. What did they do for the rest of their lives?
I am sure the conversations around their well laden and guest-filled table would have been fascinating and always focused on Jesus - the stories told over and over again.

What a wonderful lesson we can learn from these three. Though they were so different in their personalities, each held a different place in their relationship with Jesus, and each expressed their love for Him in a way that came natural to them.
What is important for each of us who read their story is to be encouraged by them to do what we do best with all our heart, learn from each other and rejoice that Jesus has called us His friends.

John 15:15 “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth…. I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you !”

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