A New Perspective on Martha

A New Perspective on Martha


John 11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[d] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”


Mary has always been portrayed as the spiritual individual and Martha as the one who was too busy working to pay attention to Jesus. This visit we get a different view of Martha who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jesus. She has been waiting for days for him to come because her brother was so ill. Sadly, her brother dies while they await Jesus and now the sisters are struggling in their grief. Each responds to grief in their own way and we can imagine that Mary is so consumed that she can't even come to meet Jesus. Instead, it's Martha who runs out to meet with Jesus along the road. It is in this place that they have a very interesting conversation.

The faith of Martha is revealed in this dialogue. She doesn't sound like a grief-stricken sister, but rather someone who is filled with faith in Jesus. She believes that Jesus could have healed her brother. Martha had seen Jesus perform many miracles and she believed that healing Lazarus would have been easy work for Jesus. What we begin to see is that Jesus trusted her faith enough to test her through a very painful journey. 

This wasn't about the death of a man, Lazarus, but about an understanding of the resurrection which would reveal Jesus as the Messiah. This was to be an illustration of what Jesus was attempting to teach all of his disciples. He had power over sin and death, not just temporally, but eternally. Amazingly, it's Martha who grasps this concept and articulates her faith in Jesus and declares him to be the Messiah, "the Son of God, the one coming into the world." She joins the ranks of only a few others, like Peter, who are able to verbalize their understanding of who Jesus really is, and the gospel writer uses her faith to solidify that of others. 


Why is it that this story of Martha is often lost on us and we focus most of our attention on the first encounter where she is busy working in the kitchen? For far too much of history we have talked about people being a Mary or a Martha, with the focus on Martha being negative. We want to be with Mary, found at the feet of Jesus, soaking in the good news. 

But maybe we should all want to be like Martha! What we learn is that Martha has a lot of skills and abilities but she is also very teachable. When she runs out to meet Jesus on the road she is driven by her love and faith. If she were still living in the past she would have been at home, worried about the food that needed to be organized and prepared for those coming to their home. She has been willing to relinquish that responsibility to others and she is focused on relationships. Love of God and love of others has already consumed Martha and now she is a different person. 

The declaration of Christ as the Messiah would have had much more power had it come from some important official. Why in the world would Jesus choose Martha -- a woman with a reputation for being caught up in being busy? Because no one else would have chosen Martha! That's the beauty of the way in which Jesus reveals the work of the kingdom of God. It is the power of God which transforms and uses the least of these for the kingdom's sake. As a result, God is glorified. 

The entire incident with Martha, Mary and Lazarus is used to glorify God and to reveal the power of the Messiah over death. Jesus knew that he could trust Martha to be faithful, even in the midst of horribly difficult circumstances. Instead of responding in anger, her faith was deepened and Jesus was lifted up. Can God trust us with difficult situations? Sometimes we have to go through very deep water, surviving in blind faith, to reach the other side. 

Martha had no idea that Jesus would raise her brother from the dead. The depth of her grief touched the heart of Jesus and he wept. He hurt because she and her sister were hurting. But they loved him enough to trust him. 

Let's not focus on the original Martha, but the Martha that she became. Transformed by the power of God, Martha became one of the very first disciples to declare that Jesus was the Messiah. This historical moment is often forgotten because we have allowed the narrative of who she was to overshadow who she became. We need to be willing to set aside our natural inclinations of who people are, and celebrate them for who they have become in Christ. Maybe this is a new perspective on Martha that should set us free to have a new perspective on all of those who are touched by Jesus. 


Lord, thank you for the honesty of a woman who was willing to trust you in the midst of great pain and difficulty. Please, help me to live faithfully in your kingdom, seeing others with your eyes and celebrating what you may want to accomplish. In the midst of it all, may you be glorified! Amen. 


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