First of all, for those who have followed my blog in the past, I know, it has been a long time in between posts. There are many reasons I could name, but I won’t bore you with all of that. But I would like to thank those of you who encouraged me to get back at it again. It is appreciated. Now, to this week’s post.
Over the years, I have heard and read many messages about Mary and Martha. The passage that is usually referenced is Luke 10:38-42. The basic message of the teachings that I have heard usually ends up being pretty much the same. Mary is hailed as the one who chose what is best by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him teach. Martha, on the other hand, is portrayed as the one who misses what is most important, being too busy working and serving to spend time with Jesus. However, in many ways, I think Martha has gotten a bad rap.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there definitely is a message here for the Martha’s among us. When Martha complains to Jesus, inferring that He does not care that her sister has left her with all of work, Jesus gently rebukes her. Jesus tells Martha that He will not deny Mary from pursuing what she desired. Let’s take a look at why I think Jesus rebukes Martha.
Jesus was not rebuking Martha for serving. Jesus tells her that she is “anxious and troubled about many things.” In other places in the New Testament, Jesus had told His disciples to not be anxious. It might have been about when they would face tribulation or about what they would eat, wear, or how they would live. There are many other examples. In most, or all of these situations, Jesus is referring to the state of being worried or weighed down with the concerns of life rather than in trusting God. In a sense, this is what Martha is doing in this passage. She has become burdened and weighed down with her service to the point that it was distracting her from everything else, including taking the time to sit at the feet of Jesus. When our service pulls us away from our relationship with God, then it is time to pull back and evaluate. The problem is, like Martha, we usually don’t see it. We need someone else to help us make the connection.
However, I think many people take this one instance in Scripture and turn it into a model for bashing the Martha servants among us. This is the only recorded time that Jesus rebukes Martha. In fact, it was Martha, not Mary, who first welcomed Jesus into her home. In John 11:5, it says that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It is interesting that Martha is listed first, almost as a place of prominence. When her brother, Lazarus died, Martha was the one who first went out to meet Jesus. In John 11:21-22, she is recorded as saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha believed that Jesus had the power to heal her brother. She also seems to indicate that even now, Jesus could still do something about the situation. Finally, sometime after Lazarus is raised from the dead, they gave a dinner for Jesus. At the beginning of John 12:2, it simply says, “Martha served.” No explanation. No rebuke from Jesus. She was simply serving Jesus.
As far as I know, this is the last we hear of Martha in the Bible. If we take into account all of the passages where she is mentioned, I think we come up with a different picture than is often portrayed. We have a person with a servant’s heart, who welcomed the Lord, believed in Who He claimed to be, and faithfully served in the way that God had created her to be. Yes, she was rebuked by the Lord, but if discount all those who were rebuked by God in the Bible, and remembered them only for their failures, we would have no one left. So, I think it is good to see Martha as a whole, and not based on one incident.
I think there are some in the church that might use the Mary and Martha comparison to justify their lack of service or involvement. They are content to “sit at the feet of Jesus.” Unfortunately, they never get off their backsides and do anything to serve the Lord or the church. They may attend a church week after week, but never do anything to serve others. They come in, get what they want from the service, and then leave. And, if they don’t like the service, then they go somewhere else and sponge off of another church for a while, until that becomes old, and so on.
There is an old saying that, in the church, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and 80% of the people do 20% of the work. In so many ways, that is true, but very unfortunate because both parties miss out. The 20% misses the benefit of the gifts and talents of those who don’t serve. And, quite frankly, they eventually can become exhausted and burned out. The 80% miss the joy and reward of being used by God to serve others. There are times and seasons in everyone’s life, so don’t misunderstand this as a broad-brushed attack on everyone who doesn’t currently serve in an active way. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we all err towards being one or the other, or maybe even both at times.
So, my take from the story of Martha is two-fold. Don’t become so burdened and weighed down with service that you forsake your relationship with the Lord. And on the other hand, don’t spend so much time “sitting” that you cripple the church with your lack of service and miss the joy of letting the Lord use you to glorify Him and bless others. May we pursue God with lives of worship, both in word and deed.
Together for His glory…