“Mary, Martha, and Jesus”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
One night last year, Lauren and I were driving home from a gospel meeting, and she asked me, “Am I allowed to request sermon topics too?” As all husbands know, there is only one possible answer to that question, and so here I am this morning, preaching a sermon on two of the most famous sisters in the Bible, Mary and Martha.
I think this is worth our time for two reasons. First, as we learned last week, our theme for the year is “Living for Jesus”, so it’s appropriate to consider the way two women lived for Jesus 2000 years ago.
Second, I think that Martha is in some need of character rehabilitation. She tends to get a bad rap from Bible teachers. There’s even a book out there called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. However, when we look at what the Scriptures actually reveal about her and her sister, a different picture emerges. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the interaction among Mary, Martha, and Jesus.
There are three stories in the New Testament about these two women, and the first of these is about MARTHA’S COMPLAINT. Let’s read it, in Luke 10:38-42. This is certainly the story that people think of first when they think about Mary and Martha. In fact, for many brethren, it’s the only story they think of.
The first thing this story shows us is that Mary is kind of an odd duck. Today, we think nothing of a woman sitting and listening to a Bible teacher, but 2000 years ago, that simply was not done. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is not only declaring herself His disciple. She’s halfway to declaring herself to be a man.
The lesson here, I think, is that it’s OK to be a weird disciple of Jesus. Some people have an easy time fitting into the conventions of society, and they can be wonderful Christians. Others very much march to the beat of their own drummer, and they can be wonderful Christians too! Being godly is a whole lot more important than being conventional.
Second, notice that Jesus rebukes Martha not for serving, but for criticizing Mary. When Martha is bustling around serving while Mary listens, Jesus is perfectly fine with that. It’s only when Martha complains that Jesus defends Mary.
In life, some people are Marys. They’re not so great at adulting, but they’ll sit and listen to Jesus all day long. Others are Marthas. They’re the ones who make sure that all the Marys are fed, clothed, and pointed in the right direction.
It’s OK to be a Mary. The church needs Marys. However, the church needs Marthas too, and just like Martha doesn’t get to insist that Mary needs to become like her, neither should we insist that Martha needs to become like Mary!
The second of our three Mary-and-Martha stories is THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS. It’s funny that we associate this story with Lazarus, but from beginning to end of it, he doesn’t say a word. It’s Mary and Martha who do the bulk of the talking. Let’s read about their part of the story in John 11:17-35.
The first thing I see here is that in life, everybody gets their chance to shine. In this story, the one who impresses is not Mary. When Jesus arrives, she doesn’t go to greet Him, which is rude. When Martha summons her to Jesus, she storms out of the house, goes to Jesus, accuses Him of being responsible for her brother’s death, and then collapses in hysterics at His feet. Everything she does radiates mad and upset.
Not so with Martha. Despite her reputation as the one who cares more about housekeeping than God, she is the one who actually has a meaningful conversation with Jesus. In v. 21-22, even though she too holds Jesus responsible for Lazarus’ death, she expresses her conviction that He can make it right. Jesus tells her and not Mary that He is the resurrection and the life. She, not Mary, triumphantly concludes the conversation by expressing her faith in Jesus’ divinity and power. I daresay that if we didn’t have the book of Luke, our narrative about Mary and Martha would be very different.
Second, though, let’s pay attention to the way that Jesus deals with Mary’s emotional outburst. He’s not angry or condemnatory. He’s compassionate. Even though He knows what is going to happen in five minutes, when she weeps, He weeps along with her.
From this, we see once again that we don’t have to hide from God. Sometimes, we feel like we have to put on our church faces when we pray, and that’s exactly the opposite of the truth. If there is anybody we can be shockingly honest with, it’s God! He’s big enough to handle our anger, our upset, our rage. The problems come when we think we have to hide those things from Him (as if we could!) and end up turning from Him.
Our third story is the story of JESUS’ ANOINTING FOR BURIAL. Let’s look it, in John 12:1-8. By now, we should know what to expect. Martha is doing Martha things, and Mary is doing Mary things.
If, after our visit to Luke 10, we still had any doubt about whether Jesus was OK with Martha serving, this should dispel it. She’s not plopped down in the floor next to Mary. She’s bustling around making sure everything is in order, just like she was before.
That’s perfectly fine. Indeed, it’s always right for a disciple to tend to the needs of others, whether they’re male or female. In the very next chapter, Jesus Himself is going to perform a humble act of service to teach His disciples a lesson. In the Lord’s body, the people who paint the auditorium are just as important as the people who preach sermons in it, and we must never forget that.
Also, notice Jesus once again sticking up for Mary. Once again, this is a strange thing she has done. The only thing like it that we see in the gospels is the sinful woman in Luke 7 wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair as a sign of her repentance.
This is also a very expensive thing for Mary to do. In our terms, this is about a $50,000 perfume job! However, whether Mary knows it or not, this is also the right thing for her to do. She comes nearer to the meaning of the moment than any of Jesus’ other disciples do.
As a result, when Judas condemns her, Jesus defends her. In fact, He defends her so strongly that Judas gets offended at Jesus’ rebuke and ends up betraying Him to the chief priests. I think Martha’s motives were a lot better than Judas’s, who only wanted his cut of the 300 denarii, but Jesus is willing to protect Mary from Marthas and Judases alike.
I think that all of us find ourselves rolling our eyes at our brethren occasionally, but we must remember that the quirkiest Christian in the assembly is someone whom Jesus loves and values. We all take some bearing with, and some of us take a lot of bearing with! However, God put us all here for a reason, and just like Mary did, each of us has something unique to offer.