Monday, November 8, 2010

Twelve Extraordinary Women Series - Martha & Mary

In this chapter of the Twelve Extraordinary Women series we meet two extraordinary women - Martha and Mary. These two women were a fascinating pair, very different in may ways but alike in one important respect: both of them loved Christ. They became beloved personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Scripture records that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister". (John 11:5) We're not told how this family became so close with Jesus but in whatever way this relationship began, it obviously developed into a deeply personal fellowship.

The fact that Jesus actively pursued friendships shows us the kind of man He was. The picture society enjoys painting of Jesus is one that is anything but friendly...but Scripture shows us that He treasured His friendships and relationships. He didn't simply have "followers" He had many loved friends. Even to this day, Jesus doesn't simply want us to be an acquaintance He wants to be our friend and for us to have a loving relationship with Him. According to the Bible, Martha and Mary clearly cherished their friendship with Jesus.

One of the most memorable encounters we have with these sisters is during the death and subsequent resurrection of their brother, Lazarus. John gives a detailed description of how distressed the women were over the loss of their brother and how Jesus ministered to them in their grief, how He mourned with them, and how He gloriously raised Lazarus from the dead. More than any other act of Jesus, that one dramatic and very public miracle was what finally sealed the Jewish leader's determination to put Him to death because they knew that if He could raise people from the dead, people would follow Him, and the leaders would lose their power. They refused to believe or even consider that His power to give life was proof that He was exactly who He claimed to be: God the Son.

Martha and Mary understood that Jesus had put Himself at risk in order to give them back the life of their brother. Scripture reveals the full depth of Mary's intense gratitude and records how she anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oils and wiped His feet with her hair. (John 12) She must have suspected that the resurrection of her brother would have driven Jesus' enemies to hatred and determination to put Him to death. It is in all likelihood that the earlier incident from scripture (Luke 7:36-50) where a repentant prostitute  had once anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair came to Mary's mind. She knew the lesson Jesus taught from that situation: "Her sins, which are many are forgiven, for she loved much". Mary's reenactment was probably her deliberate replication of that incident, to signify how much she also loved Jesus and how grateful she was to Him. Both Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus' willingness to accept such a lavish expression of worship is what prompted Judas's decision to betray Jesus. Despite all of God's holy examples of kindness, mercy and loving intentions...people still hated Him and the pride of men would be at the root of their hatred.

The main focus of this chapter is that famous incident when Jesus gave Martha a mild reprimand and strong lesson about where her real priorities should be and the dangers of self-pride. Scripture says:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she has a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me."
And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

When it came to hospitality, Martha took her hostess duties very seriously and wanted everything to be just right. She was a conscientious and considerate hostess - traits that were very admirable. Jesus was the perfect houseguest. He enjoyed the fellowship and conversation, His contributions to the discussion were enlightening, and thought-provoking. Everyone in attendance was no doubt fully engaged in Jesus' instructive conversation, Mary's instinct was to sit at His feet and listen. Martha, however, kept right on working with her preparations. Soon, Martha became irritated with Mary not helping her. I can just imagine the scene.... Martha subtly hints to Mary that she needs her help by exhaling deeply, clearing her throat or even banging around in the kitchen to stir her sister's attention. After all of her attempts failed she marches right up to Jesus and airs her complaints against Mary. His response probably shocked her. It obviously did not occur to her that she was the one in the wrong.

Some important lessons emerge from Jesus' reprimand of Martha. Humility had been a constant theme in Jesus' teachings and is a difficult lesson for most of us to learn. Martha's external behavior at first appeared to be admirable. She was working hard to serve others at this gathering. But her treatment of Mary revealed a serious defect in her servant's heart. Her words in front of other guests were certainly to humiliate Mary. She either didn't think that her words would be hurtful or she simply did not care. Either way, she assumed that Mary was being lazy but in reality, Mary's heart was in the right place. Martha's behavior shows how subtly human pride can corrupt even the best of our actions.

Martha appears to be acting as a servant to all, just as Christ had so often commanded. She no doubt began with the best of motives and intentions but the moment that she made something other than Christ the focus of her heart and attention, her perspective became very self-centered. At that point, even her service to Christ became tainted and self-absorbed. Martha was showing an attitude of sinful pride that made her susceptible to other kinds of sinful behaviour: anger, resentment, jealousy, distrust, judgmentalism, and unkindness. All of that flared up in Martha in a matter of minutes. Worst of all, Martha's words criticized and challenged the Lord Himself: "Lord, do You not care....?" and fell into an all-too-common religious trap described by Paul: "They measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."

Mary, on the other hand, understood the true importance of the occasion, that the Lord Himself was a guest in their home. And she became so absorbed in Jesus' every word that she became oblivious to everything else. Listening to Him and worshiping Him was at that moment the best use of her energy and the right place for her focus. The stark contrast between the two women is clearly Mary's willingness to sit still, listen and ponder and Martha's inclination to act or more accurately - react.

I, myself, have been guilty of behaving like Martha. It's easy for us as humans to lose track of what is really important and it's frustratingly easy to get distracted by the world around us. Pride is something we all struggle with. The trouble with pride is it is easy to misinterpret. Just as with Martha's example...we may THINK we are doing what is good and right....but are our intentions pure? Do we have a servants heart or a selfish heart? What is motivating our actions? These are questions we must ask ourselves everyday. We might be able to fool others, and even fool ourselves into thinking we have the best intentions but God sees our hearts. So in everything we do, we should seek to glorify God, not others and certainly not ourselves.

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