In Defense of Martha

By Rusty Burns Published on January 30, 2017

Are you a Mary or a Martha? You will remember the two sisters of Lazarus who seemed to be complete opposites. Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus attentive to His every thought while Martha ran hither and thither preparing dinner; beheading and plucking the poultry, pulling up well water for boiling, descaling the fish, pounding the grain to make the flour to make the bread, pulling out her best china from the far corners of her dining hutch. 

If you are a Mary, bow your head in thanks. If you are a Martha, then “Hollah”!

Holler at your kids, holler at your spouse, holler at the cars in front of you that are still stopped even though the light has been changed for at least a nano-second! Holler that there’s never, ever enough time to get everything done.

Yup, I’m a Martha. I am a gargantuan list maker. I make lists of the lists I have to make. A schedule-er.  A hustle-and-bustle-er. And apparently a maker-upper of words. I’ve never had a dozen disciples show up for supper, but I’ve been in Martha’s sandals plenty.

The Story of Martha

It’s in the Book of Luke where we read about Jesus and His visit with Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus.

 As Jesus and His disciples were on their way He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

I was always bothered by Martha getting rebuked by the Lord. My answer in my head was, “Well, what about times and seasons? Huh, Lord? This would be a time to make dinner and set the table. Later we can chat. If we don’t cook the food who will? Won’t your bellies be complaining that they weren’t fed?”

I’ve argued Martha’s case for years, every time I’ve read or heard that story. I’ve felt bad for her for decades! Wasn’t she basically in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation?

But, of course, we know when we are arguing with Jesus we must be missing something because He is always right. And more than that, He is always loving and wants to teach us truth and perhaps above all bring us to complete freedom. Freedom from our self-imposed schedules. Freedom, because our thought life can so easily put chains around our hearts. 

Perhaps that particular evening had Martha sat at Jesus’ feet and listened and absorbed a neighbor may have unexpectedly shown up with a fish casserole and fresh bread for them. I don’t know all the Lord had in mind, but clearly He was trying to teach Martha to trust and listen, and keep her focus on Him.

Things go so much smoother when I trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, instead of pressing ahead through immovable brick walls. And I have plenty of lumps on my noggin to prove it. Have you ever been called headstrong? It probably wasn’t meant as a compliment.

I’ve cooked many empty meals when I could have been feasting on the Bread of Life.

The Good News for Us Martha’s

Here’s the good news. We know Martha was chided and corrected, and probably embarrassed, offended, hurt and definitely confused by the Lord’s response. Yet we know from Scripture that she grew. She grew so close to the Lord and learned to be such a good listener to the Spirit that it was Martha who, in faith, came running to Jesus when He came to their village after the death of Lazarus:  (John 11)

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus goes on to tell Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Wow! What an amazing growth spurt for Martha! Back at the supper she didn’t even know that her sardine soufflé was not the main event. Now she’s come to such freedom and understanding that she’s declared Jesus the Messiah before He brings her brother’s stinky corpse back to life. That’s something to holler about.

We Can Be That Martha!

We don’t need to be the Martha who runs around and misses Jesus. We can be the Martha who runs to Jesus and grasps fully who He is. 

We can turn our “git ‘er done” attitudes towards spiritual things. Make our relationship with Jesus top of our list. After all, God gave us those “Martha” giftings. We just need to direct them properly. And being the good Martha’s that we are, we can relish in Deuteronomy 2:7: “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.


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