The Transformation of Martha
There’s a story I think every Christian woman should know.
It’s the story of Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus.
You probably think you know the whole story. She’s the grouchy hostess, right?
She’s more than that.
She was having what we call “a moment” when she lost her faith and her temper with her life, her situation, and the Lord. But his quick and gentle chastisement brought her back to center. She transformed.
There’s more to her story than you think, and the lesson there is a powerful one for modern Marthas, distracted by details and frustrated with life. Read on…
When we talk about Martha, we almost exclusively refer to her story in Luke chapter 10.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42 ESV (emphasis added)
That’s all the story we get of her.
Somehow, that simple tale resonates with so many of us. I don’t know if it’s an innate part of our womanhood, or if it’s just me, but the entire story seems so very familiar.
One sister is sitting, enjoying the “party”. She’s not worried about a thing, just being in the moment.
The other sister is concerned about #ALLTHETHINGS! Can’t you just imagine all she’s got on her mind?
She’s worried about the food. Is there enough? Does it taste good? Will Jesus like it?
She’s worried about the house. This place is a wreck. Are they going to want to stay the night? Is there enough space for all of them? How long will they stay? Will I need to go to the market? Where am I going to get the money to feed all of them?
She’s worried about herself. Did I say the right thing when he showed up? I should have bowed. I wish I had washed this dress yesterday. My face is probably filthy!
And just as she feels like she’s drowning under the weight of it all, she looks for her nearest life-rope, the person who is always at her side, the one she often takes for granted, the one who never seems to keep up with all that’s in Martha’s head….her sister. Where is that blessed Mary?!
Her frustration reaches a peak (we’ve all been there) and she storms over to the gathering and spews all her anxiety… right at the LORD! She demands that he tell Mary to get up and help.
Can you imagine standing there and hearing the words come out of your own mouth?!
Don’t you bet she wanted to slurp those words back in as soon as they fell out. “Oh what have I done? I’ve griped at the Lord and demanded he suit my desires.”
I bet you’ve been there too, crying out your frustrations in prayer.
“God, make my husband understand!”
“Lord, please, teach these children to respect me.”
“Father, I need some help with this house. Make my family see what they need to do!”
“God, why did you give me so many things to do?! I can’t do it all. I need help.”
The good news is, the Lord was big enough, and his grace abundant enough, to let Martha’s words fall flat and to take our prayers in stride. He sees the heart and not just the words. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for that grace.
The actual quotation from the Bible is so very short. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken from her.” Only 2 sentences, yet in those 2 perfect sentences, I can just hear his tender voice, saying something like this:
Dear, darling girl, don’t fret. It’s ok….it’s okay. You are worried about so many things. All these details and tasks you think are necessary, they’re just not. No, Sweet Girl, only one thing is needed. Coming to me was the perfect thing to do.
I’m so glad you came to me, but I’m not going to make your family fulfill your demands. No, I’m going to do something better. I’m going to lighten the load.
See, Martha, when you come to me, I can carry the burden. You’re released from having the perfect house, the perfect food, being the perfect hostess. It’s all like blowing wind anyway: here today, gone tomorrow.
YOU are an eternal creature. I created you as such. The things of this world are nothing compared to the life I have prepared for you.
Let your eternal self take over. Pause, talk to me. THIS, our relationship, is the most important thing. This is made to last.
Dear child, if you ever feel stressed or overwhelmed again, come to me. Let me comfort you. I’m always here.”
There’s another story about Mary and Martha and Jesus in the Bible. You may have never even noticed Martha’s role, because she’s not the star this time. Her brother Lazarus is. Take a look at John 11. I encourage you to read the whole chapter, even into chapter 12, through verse 8. You can find that here.
Lazarus was ill so the sisters sent for Jesus to come. Jesus waited saying that this illness would not end in death, and it would be to glorify the Lord.
As it turns out, Lazarus did die. He was buried in a tomb.
Martha’s house was full of guests there to “console” her. Have you ever been around a grieving family? There’s a blessing in having a lot of people around to share the grief, but there’s also a lot of stress. A lot of people with high emotions is just a hard situation, especially if you are a hostess prone to being concerned about many things, like our friend Martha.
She seems to be taking it all in stride though.
In John 11:20, when Martha hears that Jesus is on his way, even though he’s about 2 miles off, she goes to meet him.
She goes to the Lord.
She doesn’t worry about him coming. She doesn’t worry about her guests. She doesn’t worry about anything.
She knows her situation is difficult–both practically and emotionally–and she runs to the ONE who can make it better.
She greets him saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Some say this is complaint, whining about the Lord not coming earlier. I’m not sure I hear it that way. It sounds profoundly faithful to me.
I know you could have kept this from happening. (and I trust that you didn’t for a good reason)
I know that you can do anything. (and you will use this to glorify God.)
Jesus looks her in the eye and tells her, “your brother will rise again.”
Martha looks away, “yes, Lord, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus catches her eye again and emphasizes, “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.”
And he poses a question that ought to make all of us stop in our tracks.
“Do you believe this?”
Martha, no longer the distracted and harried homemaker, summons her strength and declares:
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
No doubt. No worries. No distractions. No fear.
After this declaration of faith, she goes to get Mary.
Where was Mary all this time?
She was at home, grieving. Mary, so tender-hearted, so emotional. She must have taken the death of her brother really hard. She fell apart. When she fell at Jesus’ feet, he wept. He asked to be taken to the place where Lazarus was entombed and requested the grave be opened.
Here, Martha raises her concerns. Um, Jesus, he’s been dead four days. He’s not what you would call fresh…. or as the King James Version puts it, “Lord, he stinketh.”
I love this line, because even though we see a transformation of Martha in her faith and reliance on Jesus, we see that she is still the confident, capable, careful woman she always was. Her personality didn’t change!
Jesus responds to her concern by saying, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
They seem like pretty good friends, don’t they? I’m sure I’m dramatizing this, but I can picture Jesus giving her a sideways look and saying “hey, didn’t I say…” and Martha, her eyes widen with an expression of “ok Jesus, I’m just sayin’.”
Of course, then the miracle occurs. Lazarus is raised. The story celebrates this miracle and ends with a meal at the siblings’ home again.
This time, the text simply says “Martha served.”
The value of her story
She’s still Martha.
She’s still taking care of everything and everyone.
She’s serving the Lord, his people, her family, and anyone else.
We see a transformation in her faith, her reactions, and her choices, but not the essence of who she is.
Here’s what’s so important about that, dear reader:
You don’t have to change who you are to find peace in the Lord.
If you love to make your home beautiful, if you love cooking a gourmet meal, if you love throwing parties or keeping a thoroughly organized linen closet…that’s ok!!
You can pay attention to all those details. Arrange the flowers just so.
Pour your creativity into the finer points of homemaking, or marketing, or budgeting, or crafting, or spreadsheets…whatever it is you do.
That’s who God made you to be!!
You’ve got talent, use it!
Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to change who she was. She simply needed to learn to trust him, to turn to him first.
The ONE thing she needed was not perfection…it was the Perfector… the Perfect One…the Creator.
And he’s all that you need as well.
We’re told repeatedly in the Bible to put our faith in him and let the details fall into place. Not because details don’t matter, but because he matters so much more.
Seek first his kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Those who trust in the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
When you place your heart in his hands,
when you give up claim to your days,
then you will find fulfillment.
Then you will declare:
You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you. (Psalm 16:2)
Then, like Martha, you too will be transformed.