Is Martha less spiritual than Mary? Today we read what Jesus really says about her. Martha is a capable, proactive, and mature woman of faith. Jesus loved the two women, namely Martha, her sister (Mary) and their brother Lazarus dearly. (John 11:5) The three are presumably young, not yet married, affluent, hospitable. They generously open their large house in Bethany to accommodate Jesus and His ministry team. Martha is mentioned first in the verse 11:5. She is probably the oldest and the head of the household.
Some Christians may mistakenly think that Mary is more “spiritual”, more interested in the words, and wants to know Jesus more intimately, while on the other hand, Martha is more “carnal”, more diligent in serving Jesus (and His company) in physical services (food and drink, hospitality) and tends to be action-activity-work-performance oriented.
Context for the above teaching: Luke 10:38-42
Luke 10:42 is often cited to substantiate the above view. It says, (AMPC) “There is need of only one or but a few things. Mary has chosen the good portion [that which is to her advantage], which shall not be taken away from her.”
First question: Has Jesus really said that Martha’s diligence and faithful stewardship in the helps/hospitality ministry is less important than the other ministries? My reading of the Bible says “No.”
Remember this is a one-off incident recorded. What is Jesus really saying on this occasion to Martha in reply to her concern about not having enough physical help to provide what Jesus and His company’s need? Jesus is actually assuring her that for Mary it is crucial to listen and understand Jesus’ teachings in this session. Jesus is well confident that Martha can manage the rest of the household details efficiently. Jesus also knows that Mary needs to listen and prepare herself so that she will anoint Jesus in a future historically and prophetically crucial incident —anointing Jesus for burial. The original word “need” (“5532 Chreia” in Strong’s Concordance) in Luke 10:42 means “need”, “business”. It is Mary’s business at that point in time to listen to that specific teaching from Jesus. Mary indeed heard the crucial message, bought and later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet. (John 12:3,7)
Second question: Is Martha less spiritual than Mary? My reading from the Bible says “No.”
Bible context: John 11:1-45 records the incident of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary died, and was raised from the dead by Jesus after four days. Both sisters sent a message to Jesus when Lazarus was very ill. But Jesus stayed where he was for another two days and only went after Lazarus died. Here is a summary of what Jesus did and said, His reasons, and how others responded.
- His immediate practical goal (in deliberately delaying): resurrect Lazarus from the dead.
- His ultimate goal:
- Goal (1): that the people see and believe that He is truly who He says He is, the Messiah and the Son of God, with the power and authority of God to give life. (John 11:4,14,15)
- Goal (2): That His own disciples see and believe that all He has said about Himself will come true too, that is, He will be taken, killed and raised on the third day. There are 12 passages in the Gospels recording Jesus predicting His death and resurrection. He wants them not to panic and fear, but to stay in love, peace and unity throughout the crucial three days after Jesus’ death and burial. (Mathew 17:22-23, Luke 18:31-33)
- His main target audience: especially the eleven apostles, and other disciples including Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
- In summary, Jesus wants to show that death has no power on Him, because He is the God who gives life. (John 11:25) He also specifically wants to see how Martha and family would each react based on His past teachings. This is evident in His interaction with them.
- Results vary and reveal each person’s maturity as a disciple of Jesus:
- The apostles as a group: They miss the whole point. (John 11:12,13,16) It explains the later event when they decide to go fishing after Jesus’ death. (John 21:2,3)
- Mary: She failed this test despite Jesus’ teachings she has previous soaked in. When Jesus came she continued to stay in her house and mourned. She came out later only when Martha went and told her that Jesus is calling her. She was still upset with Jesus not coming earlier to heal Lazarus when he was still alive. (John 11:32) Jesus was disappointed with her (weeping just like the people around her as though there was no more hope!) John 11:33 (NLT) states, “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.”
- Lazarus: He was dead and inside the grave. But he heard Jesus, rose and came out of the grave. He became a live witness. (John 11:43-44, 12:9-10,17-19)
- Martha: Unlike what some may think, Martha is well versed with what Jesus has taught and believes in His words, although she has her concern about the stench from the dead and rotting body (John 11:39). Jesus patiently talks to her and explains to her His supernatural power over the physical natural constraint. (John 11:20-40).
Martha does not give up hope that Jesus can perform a miracle on Lazarus. She declared to Him two important statements of faith, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:22) “Yes, Lord,” she told Him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” (John 11:27) Martha said the same words that the apostle Peter said in Mark 8:29. She is on equal spiritual footing with the prominent apostle in her understanding of who Jesus is!
Martha is a capable, responsible and bold woman of faith. While managing the big house full of well-wishers and mourners, when she got word that Jesus was coming, she went the distance to meet Him. But Mary stayed in the house with the mourners. (John 11:20) Martha had the boldness and confidence to ask Jesus and voice her concern, yet with hope. Because of that, she is the one to whom Jesus declares two crucial truths. And it is not a coincidence. Jesus knows she will respond right. She did.
- “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
- “You would see God’s glory if you believe.” (John 11:40)
Martha believed Jesus. She witnessed the resurrection of her brother. She saw the glory of God. Like her sister Mary, her name is recorded in the Bible. So is her brother Lazarus. What a family of powerful living faith that witnesses to many!
by Kainotes Ministry* July 24, 2020
Vine’s Greek New Testment Dictionary:
kainotes akin to kainos, is used in the phrases
(a) “newness of life,” Rom 6:4, i.e., life of a new quality (see kainos under NEW); the believer, being a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), is to behave himself consistently with this in contrast to his former manner of life;
(b) “newness of the spirit,” RV, Rom 7:6, said of the believer’s manner of serving the Lord. While the phrase stands for the new life of the quickened spirit of the believer, it is impossible to dissociate this (in an objective sense) from the operation of the Holy Spirit, by whose power the service is rendered.