Martha and her Gift of Responsibility
Martha gets a bad rap. Many commentaries on Martha paint her as the woman whose heart was centered on displaying her culinary prowess to her guests. She is compared to her sister Mary, who chose to sit and listen to the words of Jesus. In the human spirit of comparison, we pit these two sisters against each other and then pick sides.
WONDERFUL WOMEN OF THE BIBLE
In our continuing series of character studies about valiant and virtuous women in the Scriptures, Sis. Larynette Hinds takes a fresh look at Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. ~ Editor
Every believer should be like Martha; I will tell you why.
At the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus appoints 72 more disciples and sends them out in twos, instructing them to go into every city and every place,
Jesus instructs his disciples to expect to be provided for by the recipients of the gospel message. When Jesus and his entourage enter a certain village (Bethany) in Luke 10:38, Martha receives him into her house. Being the mistress of the house, Martha prepares food to feed thirteen-plus guests. Any woman who runs a household, or anyone who oversees food arrangements for ecclesia gatherings, knows this is no small feat. Martha’s generosity and willingness to serve others are evident from the moment we meet her. She understands her role and responsibilities, and she takes them seriously. How many of us are eager to invite brothers and sisters who visit our ecclesias into our homes for a meal? How many of us dare take on the challenge to feed a group of men who show up unannounced?
We condemn Martha for focusing too much on serving an elaborate meal instead of listening to the words of Christ. We label her as the poster child for believers who get entangled in their long to-do lists but care less about devotion to Jesus. We are referring to Jesus! He was an important guest. Why would we expect Martha to serve anything short of an elaborate meal? Will we dare serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if Christ showed up at our doorsteps? It is human to want to impress and please others, especially those who are important to us. Martha, like us, was human, and that is okay.
It is remiss to read the story of Martha without placing it against the backdrop of the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke is riddled with stories highlighting the importance of service, generosity, and hospitality. Jesus himself feeds 5,000 men in Luke 9:12-17: a miracle that exemplifies God’s providence. Jesus also takes the responsibility of meeting the crowd’s need for natural food. Again, in Luke 10:25-37, we read the story of The Good Samaritan, where Jesus explains what it means to love our neighbor—using our resources to provide for those in need, just as the Good Samaritan provides for the man who is left for dead by thieves. We also see this principle in Jesus’ instruction to the rich ruler in Luke 18:22 to sell all he has and distribute to the poor. Luke 14:16-24 shows God’s radical hospitality in granting us an open invitation to the marriage supper of the lamb. God is willing to welcome us if only we heed the call and come.
Martha uses her resources to serve Christ, his disciples, and those under her care. In our feeble attempt to minimize Martha’s service, we judge her intentions and try to make void her love for doing God’s work. The very thing we see as a negative in Martha is the very reason, we should admire her and strive to be like her.
True, Martha makes it her duty to focus on what she thinks is important, given the circumstances. Perhaps, when she invites Jesus into her house, she assumes her sister Mary will help cater to their guests. Or, since she made it her responsibility to take care of everyone, she did not have the chance to engage the way she would have loved to. We do not know the exact reason we do not see Martha at the feet of Jesus, but one thing we know for sure is she voiced her frustration.
Martha walks up to Jesus, right in the middle of his teaching, and tells him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40). Imagine a sister interrupting a brother’s exhortation at a fraternal gathering to ask for help with the meal preparations! Martha dares to speak, and Jesus’ response is all the reassurance, correction, and care Martha needs from the Lord. “But the Lord answered her, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42). We see a beautiful relationship between Martha and Jesus—Martha is comfortable expressing her feelings to Jesus, and Jesus takes the time to listen and respond to Martha’s frustration. How many sisters have left the truth because others are too busy teaching while ignoring their concerns and frustrations? How many of our arranging board members bother to take the concerns from sisters seriously? Do we bother to respond to concerns and frustrations from our children, brothers and sisters with love and kindness as Jesus did?
Some brothers and sisters have become the default people in our communities and ecclesias to fill the gap, pick up the slack, and do what needs to be done. They know where the shoe pinches when we fail to take the responsibility to do God’s work. Have we ever considered calling out the laziness and inconsiderate actions of others who leave the responsibility to care for everyone to the repeated few? Or are we too busy trying to portray ourselves as “Marys,” but we are not fully committed to showing our devotion and love to God and our savior Jesus? Sure, God can use stones to raise children for Abraham (Matt 3:9), but have we pondered what will happen if we have no Marthas in our ecclesias and communities? Someone must do the work. May we all be like Martha and be that someone.
Notice, Jesus does not tell Martha her generosity and hospitality do not matter. Perhaps, all Martha needed to know was that Jesus cared about her too. Yes, Martha needed instruction, but she would not have received that correction and the gentle response from Jesus if she kept her frustration to herself. Even more tragic, she would have never understood the depth of love and care Christ had for her if she had chosen to be quiet.
The story of Martha is that of a woman of faith who continues to learn from the Lord Jesus. She continues to use her voice to express what she knows and understands, and Jesus continues to teach Martha and even reveals himself to her clearly in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In the verses that follow, we see Martha’s beautiful confession of faith and her belief in Christ:
Martha has the gift of hospitality, and she uses every bit of that talent. Martha is the servant who was given five talents and brought five talents more (Matt 25:14-30). When Jesus and the disciples come back to Bethany after the resurrection of Lazarus in John 12, we still find Martha serving, using her gift and resources—her blessings from God.
We, like Martha, have many talents from God. We, like Martha, want to serve our Lord Jesus and our fellow believers, and sometimes we too have many reasons to be distracted and are very much in need of care and love. May we, like Martha, speak up, voice our frustrations, and seek a resolution so we can continue to be about God’s business. May we, like Martha, understand our responsibility to deliver on God’s mission and purpose. May we, like Martha, be a friend to those who have been rejected for the sake of the Gospel. May we, like Martha, receive those, who like Jesus, did not have a place to lay their heads. May we, like Martha, show our faith by our works. May we, by God’s grace, be counted among the righteous when Christ Jesus returns.
South Ozone Park Ecclesia, NY