If you’ve been in Christian culture for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a sermon preached about two sisters: Mary and Martha. Mary is known as the devoted one who took the time to sit at Jesus’s feet. Martha is known as the worker-bee who got annoyed when her sister was listening instead of being a good hostess.
I’ve always identified more with Martha than with Mary. It’s very hard for me to slow down and just be. I would much rather be doing something—anything—to be productive. I enjoy working and if something needs to be done, usually I can make it happen. This can be an incredible strength when it is used appropriately, but can also lead to some unhealthy behavior that I have to constantly be aware of.
I realized, even during this season of immense slowness, that I’m still finding my identity in what I do. But I am called to be so much more than that. And, in the Bible, we see that Martha was so much more than that one moment of stress that has made her so famous.
John 11 records the story of Lazurus’s death. He was Mary and Martha’s brother and good friends with Jesus. When the disciples informed him that Lazurus had died, they made their way to Bethany where these siblings lived.
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”” John 11:20-27 (NIV)
I’m amazed at the faith displayed by Martha in this passage. She loved the Lord so much that she ran out to greet him. She had been grieving, wrecked by the death of her brother, yet she sprinted to Jesus, meeting him long before he got to her house. She believed that Jesus could’ve saved her brother’s life and professed that Jesus came to save the world. Even in this dark moment of her life, she was more focused on the goodness and glory of God than her own loss.
Mary and Martha were both incredible women of faith.
These sisters displayed their faith in very different ways, but one wasn’t less faithful or loved God less than the other. Mary wasn’t perfect and Martha wasn’t the worst—they were flawed humans just like we are and they were deeply loved by God.
There have been times when I’ve felt as though I am somehow lesser for being more like Martha than Mary. I have felt shamed for being more prone to serving instead of sitting, as if that made me a second-tier follower of God. But a passage in this same chapter debunks that entire theory.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5 (NIV)
And the same is true for us. No matter how hard I work or how long I sit, I cannot increase or decrease his love for me. I don’t have to earn it and I can’t lose it. It’s such a freeing truth I am not what I do. Neither are you.
If you tend to be “more of a Martha,” I want you to know that you are wholly and unquestioningly loved by God. He has given you certain strengths that can be used for his glory and for the good of others, but those things don’t define you. He has called you by name and longs to spend time with you.
If you tend to be “more of a Mary,” I want you to know that you are wholly and unquestioningly loved by God. Thank you for being an example of how to sit and receive from Jesus and for loving those who are different than you. He has called you by name and longs to spend time with you.
No matter where we fall on the Martha and Mary spectrum, we are loved and accepted by God because of Jesus. Today, I pray that we would run to him like Martha and sit at his feet like Mary.
Do you tend to associate more with Martha or Mary?
How can you practically choose to be with Jesus today?