Most Christians are familiar with the scene in Luke 10:38-42 in which two sisters welcome Jesus into their home. Ever the hostess, Martha is busy cooking and cleaning for Jesus and His followers. She is working for her Master. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, chooses to spend her time sitting at Jesus’ feet. She is worshipping her Master. Most people read this as a story about priorities, and it is. But the events that happen next are often overlooked. It is there that we learn an even deeper lesson about God’s chastening and uncover which sister is really the better role model for believers today.
The Original Lesson
In that first scene in Luke 10, Martha is upset. She is working hard to accomplish the earthly tasks set before her. For years, I could relate a lot more to Martha than to Mary here. After all, day to day things have to be done; there is no getting around them. When more people help, it lessens the burden on the rest. But then as my own relationship with Jesus was strengthened, I realized that Mary was the smart one after all.
She had Jesus right there in her very own house. What other thing could possibly be more important than sitting at His feet and soaking up everything she possibly could? So, when Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping her, Jesus chides her for her stress and lets her know that Mary is actually the one who is doing the right thing. She has “chosen the better part,” and He will not take that away from her.
The Next Scene
Fast forward to the next scene in John 11. Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus has died. As friends of the Messiah, they had sent for Him when their brother was ill, hoping that He could come to heal him. But Jesus had purposefully stayed away an extra two days in order to show the great miracle of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. When He gets to their town of Bethany, Mary and Martha have a house full of people who were there to comfort them. It is the next verse that speaks volumes about the kind of servants the two sisters really were and gives a great lesson for us to learn.
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.”John 11:20
The Sisters’ Reactions
God corrects His children. That’s how we know that we are His and He loves us. When Jesus chided Martha in that first scene, she probably felt embarrassed and remorseful. (I know that feeling all too well, don’t you?) After all, she was doing her best to serve her Master. She had missed the mark, and Jesus corrected her. The Bible doesn’t say what happened next, but I imagine her taking off her apron at that very moment and using it to dab a tear trickling out of one eye as she sat down on His other side. He had chastened her, and she had to repent. But, after her brother died, and she heard Jesus was coming to town, she ran to meet Him.
Mary, on the other hand, “sat still in the house.” When she heard Jesus was coming to town after her brother was already dead, she didn’t make a move to greet Him. Was she upset? Was she wondering how Jesus could have possibly let her down after she had been so devoted to Him? She had sat for hours listening, and later, she was the one who anointed His feet with ointment and wiped her tears with her hair. She was a great and devoted follower who prioritized time with Him over all other things, but when something happened in her life that she didn’t understand, she refused to run to Him. Maybe she even took offense.
It’s The End That Matters
In the Bible, it is never the beginning of thing that matters; it is always the end. Someone who starts as a great servant can fall away. Someone who gets it wrong but repents at God’s chastening can be restored. Now, despite her momentary hurt, Mary still belonged to Jesus. She came when Martha told her that He was calling for her. And, I’m sure when realized that Jesus was there to resurrect her brother, she probably repented of her earlier actions and apologized for doubting Him. I have been there too.
In fact, I don’t know about you, but I feel like at different times in my life, I have been both sisters at all points in this story. There are times when I’m the devoted one, forsaking everything just to sit at His feet. And there are times when I’m too busy serving Him to spend time with Him. Sometimes, I’m the one who runs to Him. And there have been times, to my shame, that I’m the one who has to repent for wondering how He could “let me down” in a time of need.
In John 11:5, the Bible says that Jesus loved both of the sisters, but it mentions Martha by name. She listened to His correction and ran to Him in love. As Christians, we will all endure God’s chastening. It is in those times that, like Martha, we must repent and run to Him with our whole hearts, never taking offense when we don’t understand His ways. After all, He has our best interest at heart.
If you to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Or, try Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28. Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.