Martha

Ever get tired of doing more than your fair share?! Annoyed that others aren’t pulling their weight?! Feel like it’s your responsibility to make sure others are “okay”?! Yeah, me too.

Take the quiz below to see if you, too, have let some unhealthy ways of being sneak up on you.

If you’d prefer listening to the post, click play above.

If you answer “Yup, that’s me!” to two or more of the items on this list … you’re in good company … unfortunately.

  •  I usually take care of others’ needs before my own.
  • My only hobbies include others (husband, children, etc.)
  • Their mood = My mood.
  • Sometimes I fear being alone without someone else.
  • I feel most comfortable being The Giver.
  • I wonder why others don’t give to me in the same way I give.
  • My “To Do List” is HUGE.
  • I want to slow down, but there never seems to be enough time.
  • Quiet time with God? I wish.
  • It’s my job to make sure others are happy.
Jesus at the Home of Martha and Mary
by Tintoretto, 16th century

Well … how’d you do?

If those statements hit home—like they do with me—there’s a woman in the Bible to whom we can both relate.

Martha, Martha.

We all know the story, and may have even gotten a little tired of hearing Bible studies about Martha and her busy, busy life.

So, let’s do something different today.

Let’s quickly run through the story and then have some fun with it … and ourselves.

The story in Luke starts out as we learn Martha has invited Jesus and His disciples into her house. Let’s look quickly at a few things here …

First, we don’t know how many disciples that included—was it just Jesus? Was it the twelve? Or more? Afterall, a few verses earlier Jesus had sent seventy-two of his disciples out on a mission, and they had all just returned.  Luke doesn’t spell out how many people Martha had just invited into her home. Had I been recording this event, I would have mentioned that fact, it’s important … but Luke—a man—is telling this story.

Stained Glass designed by
Edward Burne-Jones, All Saints Church, Warwickshire, England, 2016

A second interesting thing is that Martha appears to be the head of the household.

That’s unusual.

It probably made 1st century hearers sit up and say, “Huh?!”

If you were a woman living during this time, you would have been married off in your teens, with your father deciding who you married. Your life expectancy was twenty-five years old, assuming you survived pregnancy; a woman’s death at child birth was not uncommon. And infant mortality was high. Given these circumstances, second and third marriages were quite normal. But marriage, for a woman, was inevitable and expected.

Martha seems to be both single and the head of her house.

She is, to say the least, uncommon.

We can also glean from the story that Martha and Mary were not wealthy. Had they been wealthy, Martha would not have been doing the cooking, that would have been the job of servants or slaves.

As the story is related, Mary immediately sat down to listen to Jesus. It seems likely there were other disciples as she found her place among them. Because Luke tells us specifically that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, Luke is telling us Mary took the position of a disciple as she sat to learn from her rabbi.

Again, 1st century listeners would have been uncomfortable with that bit of revelation.

Anonymous, tempera on wood,
National Museum in Warsaw, c.1430

Men sat at the feet of rabbis.

Women did not.

Martha, the story continues, was busy—too busy. She was distracted … over-occupied.  The Greek word has it’s root in another word meaning “to drag all around.” Isn’t that the perfect description? Martha wasn’t managing her life, her life was managing her.

“Lord,” she says, “Isn’t it concerning to you that my sister has left me alone to do all the serving. Tell her to help me.”

Notice Martha doesn’t speak to Mary directly. She acquiesces to the authority of the present rabbi and speaks to Him. Mary is neglecting her duty and violating a clear social boundary, she is acting like a man and bringing shame to her house. Martha’s protest is justifiable.

No doubt Martha was exhausted by this time. I hardly think she approached Jesus after serving the first plate of figs and cheese. And she’d probably already tried getting her sister’s attention with subtle eye gestures and sighs.

She was trying to be good … trying to fulfill her role—or what she thought was her role.

Unknown

But the story continues as we come to the famous line by Jesus,

“Martha, Martha…”  

What was the tone of voice Jesus used here? How have you imagined Jesus said her name?

Have you imagined it to be a rebuke? A scolding as to a young child? Maybe annoyed? Exasperated at the least?

I did.

I mean, who repeats a name unless they are a bit aggravated? 

Well … turns out I was wrong.

Scripture is full of stories where a name was repeated.

And every time in Scripture that a name is repeated, it is in the context of intimacy. Not sexual intimacy. Rather, it is an expression of tenderness, gentleness, and affection in a relationship.

Repeating a person’s name is a Hebrew expression of love and care.

Christ with Martha and Mary
by Henryk Siemiradzki, Russian Museum, 1886

“When God speaks to Abraham at Mount Moriah, as he is about to plunge the knife into the breast of Isaac, God says, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’” God called to Moses from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses,” or God’s call to little Samuel in the night, “Samuel, Samuel.” “Simon, Simon,” Jesus says to Peter. “My God, my God,” is Jesus’ cry on the cross and “Martha, Martha” is Jesus’ tender response to an intimate friend.

No rebuke. No shame. No “You should know better.”

Just gentleness and love.

Jesus doesn’t care about food … He cares about Martha’s heart. His response shows that.

Jesus gently helps her to see that she is anxious.

Pulled in different directions.

Modern Icon

Troubled … about many things. Not just the present meal situation.

Martha is distracted and divided.

Then Jesus gently teaches her, “There is only one thing needed…” One thing worth her time and attention. One thing that is absolutely necessary for life. One.

The story concludes with Jesus pointing out that Mary—Mary who is sitting in the male-only position of a disciple—has made a choice.

The right choice.

There is no division or distraction in her. She has chosen Jesus … simply being with Jesus … even when there are other things on her “To Do List” … even when there are other expectations on her time and energies … even when she should be doing something else (or at least other people think she should be doing something else) … even when …

 Christus in Hause de Martha
Georg Friedrich Stettner, 1639.

Another interesting thing to note about our story is its location within the Gospel of Luke. Immediately before our account of Martha is the parable Jesus told about the good Samaritan. Luke put two stories back-to-back which would have turned the stomach of a 1st century Jewish man upside-down. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the reviled and loathed Samaritan acts more godly than multiple Jews. Then a disregarded and overlooked woman—Mary—chooses Jesus and is applauded and protected as she sits at the feet of Jesus. A woman. A Samaritan. An upside-down kingdom. Marginalized persons become the heroes and demonstrate loving God and loving neighbor. And interestingly, the “good” man serves, the “good” woman does not serve.

As our story continues, I have wondered at times why Jesus continues by saying Mary’s choice, “…will not be taken away from her.” Was he clarifying to Martha He would not be honoring her request to get Mary up off her feet to help? Was He looking at the other male disciples and letting them know women were welcome at His feet?” Or, perhaps looking at an anxious Mary who was not sure what to do and letting her know she could relax, that she had chosen well?

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. And this day, to Martha, you can almost see the tender look in the eyes of Jesus as perhaps He reaches out a hand and says,

Come. Come to my side. Come and learn. Come and rest.


I’ve created a podcast you can download and listen to … an experience in imaginative prayer with this story of Martha and Jesus. I have found this approach very helpful and wanted to encourage you to give it try.

You can start right now or plan a time in future. Finding a place in which you will not be disturbed is critical. You may need to go to the library with headphones on, or your church, or lock the door to your bedroom. But, you’ll need about thirty minutes for our time together. Once you find that sanctuary for yourself, get comfortable and start the recording below. I will be eager to hear how it goes for you, or if this kind of activity is helpful and you’d like more.

Click here for link to Martha Guided Prayer


Resources used:
Co-dependent list adapted from Pin by Diva Verdun, Retrieved 8/3/20 from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/365002744776366794
New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary
Repeating Names. Bible.org
Tabletalk, April, 1990, p. 18
Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, by Lynn Cohick

Cover Picture:  Italian artist Vincenzo Campi, 16th century
(Looking for Jesus and Mary? Look in the upper left corner.)

8 thoughts on “Martha

  1. Hi Arnell, I thought your choice of illustrations of the M&M parable were intriguing. I loved seeing the varying artists’ interpretations The first one puts Martha front and center “swamped” with her task. I can relate! Thanks for pointing out Jesus and Mary in the corner. The “Christ with Mary and Mary” draws your eye to Mary “peacefully” at Jesus’ feet. I need to be there more often. I wondered where Martha was and she is subtly on the path approaching Jesus. The meaning about the repeat of a person’s name was so interesting. I’m not sure I knew that or even paid attention. Thanks for all your wonderful teachings.

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  2. Arnell, you’re teachings are a marvel and a gift straight from God. Thanks so much for the guided prayer! My “shoulds” are of my own making and only I can accomplish them; my guilt at turning my back only reinforces for me that I am not a Martha. Martha’s ministries included seeing that something needs to be done and she does it. The Bible doesn’t say but I imagine that Martha gets a job done ASAP so she can move on to the next task and the next. I admire her.

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  3. Wow, I never have seen a connection between the two parables… well done Arnell! My good friend, Mary Lou McKee has taught me to get rid of the “shoulds” in my life and just respond to what Jesus wants. It makes a difference.

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  4. I have long loved the story of Martha and Mary – probably because I’ve known I was a Martha for a long time. Arnell, you unwrapped that story so well . . . thank you.

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