Bev Ashton writes the third devotion in the series on how Jesus related to women. This month she helps us to reflect on Martha, the woman who so often gets a really bad press!
Perhaps two of the most well known women in Jesus’ life were sisters Martha and Mary. We are first introduced to the sisters in Luke 10:38-42 in the well known incident where Martha seems to be doing all the work while Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. We meet them again in John 11 when their brother Lazarus dies and Jesus raises him from the dead. Finally, we read of a third occasion when Jesus is with Martha and Mary when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet (Matt 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9 and John 12:1-8). In this devotion we will briefly explore Jesus’ interaction with Martha on the first two occasions. We will explore Jesus’ interaction with Mary on the third occasion in our final devotion in this series, next month.
In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus is invited into Martha and Mary’s home and Martha gets on with preparing things for her guest. Meanwhile her sister Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said”(v39). In this scenario Martha is the one following cultural convention and Mary is the one who is seemingly shirking her responsibilities by not helping Martha. Being sure that she is the one in the right and that Mary is the one in the wrong Martha complains to Jesus about her sister, looking to him to support her complaint and to rebuke Mary for not helping Martha. However Jesus’ response is not the one that Martha was expecting. He gently, but firmly tells Martha that she’s got her priorities wrong and that rather than being lazy Mary has in fact chosen the right thing to do. This incident reveals that it was not only men in the 1st century that had cultural expectations on the role of women, but that women had these same expectations. I am not sure if Lazarus was there on this occasion, but I cannot imagine that Martha would have gone to Jesus complaining that Lazarus was not helping her. Jesus’ response however, shows us again his radical view towards women. Not only does he rebuke Martha for her complaint, that Mary was not helping her, but his response also shows that he thought he should teach women as well as men. Even his response to Martha is an opportunity to teach her.
In John 11 Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that Lazarus is sick, but Jesus chooses to stay away and does not go to Bethany until Lazarus has been dead for four days (v17). Martha goes out to meet Jesus and they have a dialogue (v21-27). In this dialogue Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life and Martha responds by telling Jesus that she believes that he is the Messiah. Mary then
goes out to meet Jesus and when he sees her and the other Jews weeping he is deeply moved and weeps himself. Jesus then goes to the tomb and miraculously raises Lazarus from the dead, literally demonstrating his early statement to Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. This encounter between Jesus and Martha is another example of Jesus teaching women and here we see significant understanding on Martha’s part as she acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah. Evans points out that it
is interesting to note that the nearest equivalent in John’s gospel to Peter’s confession of Christ (Matthew 16:16), which was seen as significantly related to his position of leadership in the church, is found here on the lips of Martha. (Evans 1998:52)
This one to one dialogue and also his teaching of Martha would have been particularly radical. Jesus treats Martha as an intelligent person who can grasp spiritual matters. She does not just listen to Jesus teaching, but engages with him and his teaching. This would have been totally radical to think that the Messiah would reveal himself to both men and women.
So this month reflect on the following:
- What stereotypical expectations of men and women do you find yourself colluding with in your life?
- How do you allow Jesus to teach you?
- What can you learn from the life of Martha?