July 26, 2020

Mary and Martha, Disciples of Christ



The stories of the two sisters Mary and Martha are some of the most remembered in the Bible. We learn of their many interactions with Jesus Christ. They fed him. They housed him. They learned from him. They wept with him. They were loved by him. As we look more closely at the lives of these two incredible women, we discover how the Savior’s love for them extends to all of us. We too can be disciples of Christ like Mary and Martha.

In ancient times, women’s responsibilities were primarily to prepare, cook, and serve meals while also caring for the children and other household duties. Men worked the land and various trades such as carpentry, pottery, and fishing. From a young age, boys were generally given a religious education at the synagogue. During the week and on the Sabbath, the men and boys would gather at the synagogue and learn and study the scriptures. Women were not generally afforded these same privileges; it was always men who were trained in the law.

Additionally, women normally would not socialize or mingle with men, except for their own family. According to Jewish law one who touched a dead body or anyone with open sores or blood became ritually unclean. Because it was difficult to know whether a woman was menstruating or flowing with blood, men generally avoided women. Consequently, women were not to disturb the men but serve them behind the scenes as they discussed matters of God.

Now let’s look more closely at Mary’s and Martha’s personal circumstances. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were siblings living in Bethany, a village just outside of Jerusalem. Apparently, Martha was quite well off as she was the householder. As an itinerant rabbi, Jesus relied on the support of others to feed and house both him and his disciples. Martha appeared to have the means to be able to do this for the Master.

Let’s consider the story found in Luke chapter 10 with this background in mind. Jesus arrives at Bethany with his disciples. This most likely would have been more than just the 12 who had been asked to follow, but others as well. Martha opens her home to Jesus and these travel-weary individuals. This monumental task, of caring for her guests, would have fallen on Martha and Mary, not Lazarus.

Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha by Robert Leinweber
What Mary chooses to do instead of helping Martha is of significant importance. She is not only mingling with Jesus and the other men, but also sitting at the Savior’s feet. This place is reserved only for the chief disciple. Mary is seen by Jesus as deserving not only of a religious education, but also of the seat for a chief disciple. Martha expresses frustration that she has been left alone to care for so many guests. “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40).

Jesus answers by saying her name not once but twice, possibly to reflect his great love for ‘her, “Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answers, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

When we ponder Jesus’ answer, we see that Martha was not necessarily being scolded, but rather lovingly taught an important principle. Jesus was not concerned with the societal norms at the time, but rather that both men and women learn of Christ and his teachings. Mary has chosen the better part—what is most essential for her at that moment—to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Luke ends the story here. We do not know what was said next or how Martha reacted to the Lord’s chastening. However, Martha’s story does not end here. She does not let this single moment define her as one who criticizes her sister or doesn’t understand what is most needful. In the book of John, we discover quite the opposite.

When Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus becomes sick, they send word for Jesus to come and heal him. In their moment of grief, they think to turn to Christ for help and healing. After Lazarus dies and is placed in the tomb, Martha receives word that Christ has finally come, she leaves her home and even the village to rush to meet him. In this moment, she expresses her deep testimony of the Savior.
“Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” (John 11:21-22). What Martha says next is rarely said by those who knew Jesus, even by his closest disciples. She testifies that he is the Messiah. “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:27).

Clearly, Martha holds no animosity or resentment to the One who previously had censured her. She shows us that she too has learned how to choose the better part by rushing to his side and declaring him to be the Savior of the world. And because of her faith, Mary and Martha can once again enjoy the companionship of their dear brother Lazarus. This is the moment that defines Martha, one who knows what is truly needful, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by LΓ©on Bonnat
While Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha offer us several lessons, let us look at just a few.
First, Jesus shows us that both men and women alike can receive a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. No one is exempt from sitting at his feet and learning from him. While social norms might dictate otherwise, no one should feel excluded from both receiving and sharing God’s word. All women and men can be scholars of Christ just like Mary.

Second, it is interesting to note that Jesus did not criticize Martha for preparing the meal for him and his disciples. Just as Mary had done nothing wrong by sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha has done nothing wrong by running her household and serving her guests. Where Martha needed correction was by wrongfully assuming what another’s role should be. Whether it is as a wife, mother, divorcee, widow, never married, homemaker, working professional, or caregiver, women’s roles are unique and endless. When we look past our own lives and decide what others should be doing with their own, we too could be told, “…you are worried and upset about many things…” Instead of judging another’s choices, we can strive to help each other fulfill one another’s unique roles on this earth.

Third, we all have moments when we mistakenly misread a situation and make the wrong judgment. These moments do not have to define who we are. Like Martha, we can humbly acknowledge our misstep and commit to improve by learning from the teachings of Jesus.

And finally, we see that Jesus loves whom he chastens. (see Hebrews 12:6) John tells us that “Jesus loved Martha.” (John 11:5) We should not feel that God does not love us when we are chastened by him. Rather we can be like Martha and continue to have a loving relationship with our Savior even if at times we might feel censured by him. Likewise, we can do the same for others. If at times we need to offer correction or guidance to another, we should show an increase not a decrease of love towards them.

In a world where we are worried and troubled about many things, we can follow Mary’s and Martha’s examples by sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn his gospel and by proclaiming to all those who will hear that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.”

Script by Heather Ruth Pack

7 comments:

  1. What a beautiful blessing this has been to my Sabbath day! Thank you for all your efforts and sharing this with the world. I learned some valuable lessons today.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! And glad you learned something new, that is always the hope!

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  2. Your videos and insights are always a highlight for me. I admire how you beautifully incorporate ancient culture with modern social norms and then deliver your message in a visually stunning format. Your work is definitely a favorite. Thank you.

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    1. You are welcome! Glad you have enjoyed them!

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  3. Very thoughtful that they spoke as friends about concerning issues.

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  4. Beautiful teaching ,may Jesus help all ,may we look up to him who loves us
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  5. Paula BarbosaAugust 20, 2020

    Amen��

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