Martha deserves better. She’s taken a lot of hits from preachers and teachers over the centuries because of a small bit of Scripture in Luke: “But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me” (Luke 10:40).
The phrase “cumbered about” has stuck to Martha. The Greek word used here is katargeo, which speaks of an over-occupation with cares or business. It also refers to the fruitlessness that comes with such a mindset. She was doing a lot and not really getting anything done. And she was missing out on what Jesus was saying to the group packed into her house.
Martha’s skills at organization and hospitality were such that Jesus and His disciples visited her home often. She and her sister and her brother, Lazarus, always made room for the Master and the crowd that followed after Him. The detail work of such visits, it seems, fell mostly to Martha. And on this occasion she felt the weight of the moment and made her feelings known.
Given the context of the passage, Martha was guilty as charged. Her own actions incriminate her. She did, after all, interrupt Jesus and His teaching to make her plea to Him.
The scene captures an inglorious moment in one life. All of us have had these moments for sure. Martha’s problem is that hers was recorded in one of the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. Her frustration with her sister and the way that she asked Jesus to intervene are known to millions of Bible readers everywhere.
Go to Jesus
Let’s think about it a little more carefully. Martha did go to Jesus with her issue. We do not read of her backbiting behind Mary’s back. It’s not recorded that she sighed aloud to whoever would take heed, “I cannot believe my sister’s not helping with this party.”
Martha had a problem and she spoke to the Lord about it. He gave her an answer: “… Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Perhaps, this wasn’t the answer Martha wanted to hear; it was one that she needed to hear, however. “Open rebuke is better than secret love,” so reads Proverbs 27:5. Jesus withheld no truth. His love He never kept secret. He spoke to Martha out of love, just as He did in Mark 10 to the rich, young ruler who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life – “Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21).
We gain a fuller picture of Martha when we consider passages about her from the gospel of John. There she is in John 11, just after her brother Lazarus has been laid in a tomb. She goes right to Christ, intercepting Him before He reaches her home in Bethany. She was bold and straightforward: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said.
Jesus promised her that Lazarus would rise again. Martha knew this and she believed it in the general sense. Resurrection Day was coming for all who believed, she said. We read also that she told Him that she believed Him to be the Christ, the Son of God (see John 11:24-27).
This passage tells me that Martha did a lot of listening when Jesus was around. She was no casual hearer either. The doctrines related to the Person of Christ and to the life that is to come were things she held dear.
Just Being Her
Later, at Lazarus’ tomb, Martha’s pragmatic bent prompted her to caution Jesus before He ordered the stone to be taken away. “Lord, he’s been dead four days – there’s going to be a stench” (see John 11:39).
Some may see her protest as an interference with the work of the Son. I don’t see it that way; I think it was Martha being Martha.Martha told Jesus what she thought and was unafraid of doing so. Click To Tweet
To me, this is the beauty of Martha. She never tried to be someone else. These raw and brash moments before Jesus reveal, I think, the sense of security she had in the presence of the Lord. Hebrews 4:16 does tell us “to come boldly to the throne of grace.” Martha spoke boldly to the One who now sits on that throne of grace while He walked on earth.
Martha told Jesus what she thought and was unafraid of doing so. There’s a lesson for all of us in this.
Another telling sentence can be found at the beginning John 12, a chapter that opens with Jesus again at Martha’s house in Bethany. The sentence can get lost because here we also read of how Mary anointed Jesus with costly spikenard, an act that drew the scorn of Judas and set up his betrayal of the Son.
“There they made him a supper; and Martha served. …” reads the start of verse 2 of John 12.
Yes, there may have been times when Martha got a little too busy, or became preoccupied with what needed to be done. To the Lord, however, Martha’s way was precious to Him, as precious as any of the other things done for Him.
Martha served Him, Mary anointed Him.
To Christ, both sisters – Mary and Martha – did what they did because they were moved by love for Him.Martha spoke boldly to the One who now sits on that throne of grace while He walked on earth. Click To Tweet