Mary and Martha
Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8; Mathew. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9
"Mary, hurry, we must go!” Martha called impatiently to me as she rushed out the door. Martha was always in a hurry and would get very annoyed with me if I dawdled. We were on our way to the market. Martha always wanted to get there early in order to beat the crowd and pick the best produce.
Jesus was coming to our house for supper, and Martha wanted it to be perfect for him. This was not the first time that Jesus and his disciples had eaten supper with us. We had met Jesus when our brother Lazarus brought him home for supper several months ago.
Lazarus had been in Jerusalem on business that day. Visiting the temple before he came home, he noticed Jesus in a heated discussion with several religious leaders. Lazarus was intrigued that someone actually dared argue with the Pharisees. He had heard all about this teacher. People all over Jerusalem were talking about him. Some called Jesus a prophet, some a miracle worker, others called him a fake. But there were also whispers that he might be the Messiah. Walking up to Jesus, Lazarus invited him to come to our house for supper. We became very good friends after that.
We had many wonderful conversations around the dinner table. One evening, I asked Jesus so many questions that Martha, embarrassed for me, broke in and apologized to Jesus for my impudence. He smiled at Martha and assured her that I was not out of line at all. I was so hungry for what Jesus had to say. As time went on, I began to believe that maybe he really was the Messiah.
Martha and I finished our shopping quickly, because we had so many preparations to attend to before he arrived. Martha had a long list of chores that must be done before supper that evening. She fussed at me if I dawdled, my thoughts often drifting to Jesus. I loved creating questions in my mind that I intended to ask him the next time he came to visit. My list of questions was getting to be as long as Martha’s list of chores!
We were hosting a special dinner tonight, because Jesus was leaving Jerusalem for a while. I think the situation with the religious leaders was heating up, and he needed to get away. Lazarus said he was going over to the other side of the Jordan, the place where he was baptized.
Finally the evening was here, and Jesus and his disciples arrived. How can I explain how I felt when I saw him? I was in awe of him, yet totally comfortable at the same time. He was such a wonderful guest, making those around him feel alive and full of joy.
Lazarus and Jesus entered into an easy conversation. They had become very close friends. My brother has such a quick laugh, and it would ring through the house whenever he and Jesus were together. Lazarus always had a funny story to tell, and he would have Jesus laughing in no time. I have seen Jesus laughing so hard that tears rolled down his face over one of Lazarus’ funny tales. Our home was a sanctuary to Jesus, a place to relax and recharge. Lazarus made sure of it.
Martha and I greeted the guests, and she quickly excused herself to go to the kitchen to finish preparations for the evening meal. I intended to follow her, but got caught up in the conversation between Jesus, Lazarus, and the other disciples. I was fascinated with the stories I heard, and I tried very hard to sit quietly by and just listen—–but I couldn’t do it. Questions began to bubble out of me, and I found myself entering into the conversation. My brother understood my unquenchable thirst for knowledge, looking at me in amusement. Jesus listened to me and responded as if I were a man of equal stature.
My revelry was broken, however, when Martha walked back into the room, a frown on her face. She looked at me, but addressed Jesus. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to get up and help me!” (Luke 10:40).
Embarrassed, I scrambled to my feet. As I did so, I heard Jesus say, “Martha, Martha, you work too hard and worry too much. One thing is important, and Mary has chosen it. It will not be taken from her.”
Martha stood for a moment, bowed her head, and then returned to the kitchen. I followed after her, not sure if she was angry or not. Surprisingly, when I got to the kitchen, she simply gave me a stack of dishes and asked quietly if I would set the table for her, with no mention of what just happened.
How can I explain Martha? She is really a wonderful sister, down to earth and ever so practical. Her mind is on basic things like cooking, cleaning, and running the household. She serves God by simply doing just that—–serving. Martha is always giving—–to Lazarus, to me, to others—–but she never allows anyone to give to her. This is noble to a point, but I sense that sometimes she is a bit resentful. She tries to hide it, but we all know that when she is like that, we need to just stay out of her way.
The evening went well after that. Martha finally relaxed and started enjoying herself. After the guests had left, we began talking.
“Mary, who do you think Jesus really is?”
“He is our friend,” I said.
“Yes, of course,” she replied. “But he is more than that, isn’t he?”
Several days later, Lazarus came home feeling ill. At first, we thought nothing of it, sending him to bed with a cool rag for his head and a bowl of Martha’s delicious fish soup. But as the night drew on, his fever began to rise, and we could not get it to come down. We worked throughout the night, but by morning, he was desperately ill. How could someone go from being so perfectly well and strong to this?
“Mary!” Martha called to me from out in the courtyard. I was trying to spoon some water into Lazarus’ mouth, and reluctantly left his bedside to see what she wanted.
“We must find Jesus.” Martha whispered to me.
There was fear in her eyes, and yet when she said Jesus’ name, we both felt a strange peace.
“Yes, Martha,” I said confidently. “He will come immediately and heal Lazarus. He has gone over to the other side of the Jordan. We will send a servant to find him.”
I quickly summoned a servant and said, “Please, go and find Jesus. When you find him, tell him this: ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick’” (John 11:3).
When the servant came back the next day, Martha and I quickly ran out to meet him. Anxiously I blurted out, “Did you find him? Did you find Jesus?”
“Yes, I found Jesus and his followers.”
“What did he say? Is he coming?” I asked impatiently.
“He said that this sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”
Martha and I were stunned. What did this mean?
Our servant looked at both of us, bowed his head, and said quietly, “Jesus did not follow me.”
Lazarus died that night.
Martha and I walked through the house in a daze, taking care of the mundane details that had to be attended to after someone has died. We prepared his body, lovingly anointing Lazarus with spices and wrapping him in the beautiful burial cloth. With tears rolling down our faces, we watched the servants lift Lazarus up and carry him to the family tomb. The mourners were waiting as the stone was rolled across the grave. Our precious, loving brother was really gone. Martha and I sent the mourners away, and we just sat beside the stone, too numb to cry anymore.
I looked at Martha after a long period of silence.
“Why did Jesus not come? Why did he let us down? He loves us. He could have healed Lazarus like he healed the others.” The questions that were smothering my heart finally started pouring out.
Martha shook her head. “I don’t know why, Mary. I have no answers for you.” She came over to me and we hugged, holding on to each other because we felt God had surely abandoned us.
Three days later, Martha and I were in the kitchen helping to serve the many guests who still came by to give their condolences. We heard a commotion outside. Immediately, a servant rushed to the door to tell us that Jesus and his disciples were on the outskirts of Bethany and coming this way.
Martha turned to look at me. She grabbed my hand and said, “Mary, we must go and greet him.”
“I can’t, Martha,” I pleaded. “I can’t face him.”
Martha squeezed my hand, removed her apron, threw her scarf over her head and went to meet Jesus.
As Martha walked to the edge of town, all of her questions, doubts, and fears threatened to overwhelm her practical mind. What would she say to Jesus when she saw him? What would be his explanation for letting them down?
Seeing Jesus walking toward her, Martha blurted out, tears streaming down her face, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” She stopped short as if realizing the sharpness of her words. Bowing her head to hide her tears, she continued, “But even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, He will give You.”
With eyes that mirrored Martha’s grief, Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).
Martha answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25,26 NIV).
The air was oppressive, heavy and hot, almost unbearable. The sun beat down on their shoulders as they stood facing each other. A dog barked in the distance, a mother called out for her child; a fly buzzed around Martha’s face. Time stood still for that instant before Martha replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
In that quiet instant, Martha just knew. She knew from the innermost part of her practical soul that Jesus was the Messiah. A seed of faith began to grow in her heart along with a joy that flushed over her, threatening to overwhelm her.
Jesus turned toward town and asked, “Where is Mary?”
“Lord, she just could not face you yet.”
With a sad smile, Jesus said, “Bring Mary to me.”
Martha hurried back to the house to find me. I was talking to a group of women who had come by to bring food and condolences. Excusing us, Martha took me off to the side and whispered, “The Teacher is here, and he is asking for you.”
I looked at Martha. “What is it? What has happened to you?” Her sadness and despair had been replaced by a lightness of spirit. Could that be joy on her face?
Martha grabbed me and hugged me tight, telling me again, “The Teacher is asking for you!”
I actually ran out the door. The women with me were so surprised and curious that they followed after me. I finally stopped running when I saw Jesus. His back was to me. I slowed my pace, allowing my heart and my emotions to calm down. He turned slowly toward me, sensing my approach. When I looked into his sorrowful eyes, I totally lost control. Falling to my knees, the cries welled up within my chest, strangling me with fresh grief. All the sorrow and disappointment of the last four days totally overcame me, and I cried out in anguish.
“Jesus, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died! Where were you, Lord? Why did you not come? Why did you let us down?” I collapsed in a heap at his feet.
He knelt down beside me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I sensed, rather than heard him pray. After a moment, he looked up at the people around us. “Where have you laid him?”
“Lord, come and see” (John 11:34 NIV).
Gently, he helped me up from the dusty road. As he did, I looked at him. Tears were running down his face. Unashamed, he wiped them away, and we began walking slowly toward Lazarus’ tomb.
Along the way, I heard comments from the crowd of people that had gathered around us. I knew Jesus heard them, too.
“See how He loved him” (John 11:36 NIV).
“Well, why didn’t he come and save him?”
“Could not he, who opened the blind eyes, keep his own friend from dying?”
Jesus continued walking, but I knew by the way he quickened his pace and set his jaw that the comments upset him.
Martha caught up with us as we arrived at the tomb. By now the crowd had grown twice as big. The word had quickly spread that Jesus had finally arrived. The small town grapevine had informed everyone about Martha sending word to Jesus, and how he did not come in time to save Lazarus. The people were curious as to what would happen next.
Without further delay, Jesus strode up to the cave where Lazarus was buried. He gestured to two of his disciples to remove the stone. Martha and I were horrified! Martha reached his side and grabbed Jesus’ arm as if to restrain him. “Master, by this time there’s a terrible smell! Lord, he’s been dead for four days! What are you doing?”
Jesus looked down at Martha and said in a quiet but firm voice, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 NIV).
Without waiting for an answer, Jesus turned back toward the disciples, and said with a determined voice, “Go ahead, and take away the stone.”
The crowd was dumbstruck. No one even moved. All eyes were on Jesus and the tomb as they slowly removed the stone.
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that You have listened to me. I know You always do listen, but because of the crowd standing here, I’ve spoken so that they might believe that You sent me.”
With a loud shout, Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43).
As I held my breath, my heart began pumping out of control. I tried to focus on the opening of the tomb, but my eyes were brimming with tears. Martha grabbed my hand, squeezing so tight, that it helped me focus.
We heard a sound from within the tomb, a shuffling noise like feet dragging through rocks. Suddenly, an apparition appeared in front of us. Could it be? My brain would not accept what my eyes were seeing. It was Lazarus! My precious brother, upright, trying to walk to us, encumbered by the shroud that was wrapped around him from head to toe! We couldn’t even see his face, because it was still covered by the handkerchief. The crowd was stunned, fearful even, still not saying a word.
Jesus gestured toward Lazarus and asked his disciple to help him get out of his grave clothes. I could not allow myself to completely believe until they removed the handkerchief from Lazarus’ face, and I saw him smile at me.
Lazarus was alive! My brother, who was dead, was truly alive! Martha and I, tears streaming down our faces, embraced Lazarus. Martha took his beloved face in her hands, crying, laughing, and praising God.
In the excitement of the moment, we lost sight of Jesus. By the time we returned to our home, he was gone.
The next few weeks were a blur as word about Lazarus spread throughout the neighboring villages. We heard that Jesus was forced to go to the village of Ephraim to remove himself from the crowds and the religious leaders. He was an enigma to all those in authority. Many people now believed in him because of the incredible miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. This put him in further danger from the religious leaders, however.
Even Lazarus’ life was in peril. Lazarus dismissed the danger to himself. What did he have to fear? He had met death and gone to the other side and back. He even said that it was difficult for him to leave the other side and come back to us because it was so glorious.
It was almost time for the Passover. Martha and I were busy, as usual, getting ready for the guests that were sure to pass our door on their way to Jerusalem. We were in the kitchen when we heard Lazarus’ voice. I turned toward the door and saw him enter, a huge smile on his face.
“Martha, Mary,” he said. “We have guests!”
Smoothing down our hair and dusting off our aprons, we waited as Lazarus stepped aside. It was Jesus! Like a little girl, I clapped my hands together and ran to give him a hug! Martha just stood there and smiled; twisting her apron in her hand. She proclaimed, “We will have a feast in Your honor, Lord.” He walked over to her, and gave her his beautiful warm smile and said, “Thank you, Martha.”
Martha and I were busy for the rest of the afternoon. This feast was going to be perfect in every way. We wanted Jesus to know how much we loved him and appreciated him. Lately I had felt like my heart would burst with joy. It was more than just the fact that Lazarus was now alive. Jesus showed all of us the meaning of the resurrection—–he gave us a glorious glimpse into heaven. He allowed us to know the power of the Living God!
I wanted to do something to show Jesus my appreciation. But what could that be? As I worked that afternoon, I came up with an idea. Martha and Lazarus might not understand, but I had to do this. I went to our hiding hole, the secret place where we kept our precious belongings. In here was a treasure chest filled with coins, silver, and gold. There were also beautiful and costly spices, perfumes, and oils that were reserved for the most sacred occasions. These spices and oils were probably more valuable than the gold and silver. We had already used up some of the expensive spices and oils when Lazarus had died. I reached in and brought out a bottle of pure nard, an exquisite perfume, and stuffed the precious offering deep down in the pocket of my skirt. Taking a deep breath, I prayed that God would bless my gesture. Now I must wait for the perfect time.
That evening, Martha served a feast! The food was delicious and filling, prepared to perfection. Martha blushed as the men complimented her on how delicious it was.
At the end of the meal, I knew the moment had come. Hesitantly, I approached Jesus. Our eyes locked as he smiled and nodded at me.
“Lord, may I?”
“Yes, Mary,” he said quietly. “It is time.”
I knelt down at his feet and gently opened the flask of perfume. The sweet fragrance filled the room. I trickled the oil on his feet. As it dripped off his feet and onto the floor, I unbound my hair and began to wipe the excess perfume.
Everyone stopped talking and watched in fascination. Judas broke the silence by saying, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5).
Embarrassed, I gathered up my bottle of nard and started to rise, fearing that Jesus would scold me also. How could I have thought to do this to him? It seemed so right at the time, but now because of Judas I felt foolish.
Jesus gently put his hand on my shoulder as I started to rise. Bowing my head in shame, I heard him say, “Leave her alone, Judas. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:7, 8 NIV).
He helped me to my feet. As I stood, he looked me in the eye, and with a sad smile he said, “Thank you, Mary.”
I did not see Him again after that. But the story did not end there, thank God. My Lord and Friend, Jesus Christ, was crucified one week later. But on the third day after He died, He rose from the dead. Before He ascended to heaven, He appeared to Lazarus. They spoke of the things to come because Lazarus understood.
We will devote the rest of our lives to Him. For you must understand . . . Jesus is our best friend.
To See Him Face to Face, all rights reserved, copyright 2003, Xulon Press