Monday, January 27, 2014

Martha, Martha !

Harold Copping Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary 400.jpg
                                                                                                                              painting by Harold Copping

Martha ,  is  one of the more readily known characters of the bible -- but I feel that too often Martha is criticized without giving her due credit and praise!

I wrote about Mary a few posts back -  and did not intend to  ignore her sister Martha!
The sisters, Mary and Martha - we so rarely think of one without the other.
But there is much we can learn from Martha by putting her centre stage instead of looking at her in the shadow of the sister that is so readily given the higher praise.

Martha, is not 'less than' Mary, in fact, she has the highest commendation that can be given ...
Jesus LOVED her !
John 11:5  "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus."
Note how Mary is not mentioned by name in this verse, only as Martha's sister! Is it to draw our attention to Martha to see what Jesus saw and valued in her?

Martha --  no other bible character shares her name.  
Martha means 'mistress' - mistress of her home.
From the facts we are given we can glean that Martha indeed was 'mistress' of her home. We know her husband must have died because the laws of her society did not allow women to own property unless they were widowed.
We know Martha was hospitable.   It says she 'received'  Jesus into her home.  The Greek word used there means "entertain hospitably'.
There was a reason Jesus went often to her home. Martha knew how to treat her guests. She 'served' them, made them feel welcome and cared about!   Her home was a place of 'rest' and 'comfort' where needs were anticipated and met.

But then , in the recorded story we are so familiar with in Luke 10:38-42 , we see that something goes wrong.
We find the clue to discover what went wrong from Jesus' words to Martha.  He says " are encumbered..." 
The Greek word translated encumbered means 'to drag all around'.
Have you ever felt like you were 'dragging around' ?  Feeling burdened down with a to-do list longer than your day, feeling like everyone else was 'playing' and all the work was left to you ?    Isn't it often our 'attitude' , rather than our task itself, that is so heavy we are 'dragging' it around ?
We see this attitude found root in Martha's thinking  since she verbalizes it  to Jesus, "Don't you care...?" 
Lets change the story up a little... do a little role reversal.
Lets imagine that Martha is doing what she loves to do -- serving others and  graciously taking delight in seeing others enjoy her hospitality.
Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words.   She looks up and sees Martha busily serving -  getting fresh drinks, refilling plates, getting napkins, finding an extra cushion for the one whose back is sore.
Mary, feeling pride that she has rather chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus than rush around serving food and drinks,  says to Jesus, "Jesus, look at my sister, Martha.  She is just running around doing needless tasks instead of sitting at your feet , as I am doing, drinking in your words!"  
What would Jesus have said to her ?
He would have said ... "Mary, you are indeed sitting at my feet, but Martha has chosen to serve me with the gift I have given her and I will not take it away from her."   

How do I know that is what Jesus would have said ?
Because Jesus does not allow finger pointing.
We have another example in John 21:21,22 where Peter , having been told that he will die a violent death, looks around and points to John asking .. "What about him?" and Jesus answers .. "What's that to YOU?"  
Also in II Cor. 10:12 we are told not to compare ourselves one to another.
Each of us has been given a gift of God and if we use that gift to His glory , one is not better or higher than another .
What we need to guard is the attitude in which we exercise our gifts and to recognize that ALL gifts are needful .

Do we need servers in the body of Christ ?? Most definitely.  It is the Marthas that do the things that make us comfortable, that make us feel welcome , that add those touches that lift our hearts and brighten our days.  It is the Marthas that make 'room' for the other gifts to flourish,  They are the ones who walk into a situation and see what needs to be done !  It is the Marthas who make sure that nothing distracts the heart from God, but rather makes room to draw the heart to see God.
We see this modelled in Martha - that very practical 'gift' of serving/organizing/recognizing and doing what is needed.
  • we see her serving in her own house - hospitality (Luke 10:38)
  • we see her serving in other people's homes - Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6)
  • after her brother died - interestingly it was not Mary who ran to meet Jesus, it was Martha.  Mary is overcome by grief, Martha is still in 'control' thinking ahead, thinking what is best to do, doing what can she put her hand to, helping others (as calling Mary to come to Jesus)  (John 11:20)
  • at the grave - when Jesus commands the stone to be rolled away - it is Martha that immediately evaluates the situation -- and points out that since the body has already been in the grave for 4 days there will be a terrible smell.  (John 11:39)
Is the serving gift exalted in scripture ?   very much ! 
  • Matt. 20:27-28 Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. 
  • Gal. 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 
  • I Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 

I am not a Martha, I am more a Mary -- BUT -- I admire the Marthas I know, appreciate them, love them, and I watch them, learning from their example how  to be more like them. 


Lovella ♥ said...

This was such a great thoughtful post Julie. I am more a Martha and I like seeing her from this perspective. A good reminder not to point fingers too!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this insight! This has always bothered me, I am more of a Martha. The story did not seem fair as someone has to do these things, we cannot all sit and do nothing. Thanks

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

Beautifully said, Julie. Thank you for the insights. I've always loved these two sisters and their story.

Anneliese said...

Thank you for this pot, Julie! It is a good lesson to picture the role reversal you pointed to and how Jesus does not allow finger pointing. It is also an encouragement, for those of us who tend to be a Martha, to watch our attitude and know that the gift of serving is a God given gift.