Profiles of Faith: Martha and Mary of Bethany

24 Apr

Luke 10:38-42

The devotional this time that I would like to share is the one concerning both Martha and Mary. There are a lot of devotionals, discussions, as well as articles about these sisters, and likewise, I believe there is so much we can learn from these two women.

If you actually searched and read the articles from many different sources, most of them would have something in common, in regards to the story of these sisters: Jesus preferred Mary over Martha. And ultimately, this whole chapter is being seen as a reason not to serve Him.

However, I believe that there is something more in this story. For the record, the story of Martha and Mary of Bethany as told in this chapter, is only found in the gospel according to Luke, and is not found in the other three. I will give a bit of a background about the gospel according to Luke:

  • The gospel according to Luke was written as accurate as possible to describe the work of Christ. This gospel is, in fact, the longest between all of the four gospels in the Bible.
  • The intended audience of the gospel according to Luke is not for general audience, but for Theophilus instead (Luke 1:3-4). Theophilus in Greek means friend of God. See Theophilus for more interpretation on the name itself.
  • As I have said before, the story of Martha and Mary of Bethany as told in this chapter, is not found in other gospels. Story about Martha and Mary of Bethany were told in John several times but it was in different contexts.

In order for us to understand what Jesus was actually saying to both of the sisters, we need to be able to understand the context of the story itself:

  • The story happened in early Judaism, and thus, it is most certain that we are looking at a very conservative Judaism.
  • Martha means lady of the house, and is most probably the eldest daughter in the house. This is the reason I put Martha’s name first instead of Mary.
  • Mary means rebellious, and is most probably the younger between the two sisters.
  • There were a lot of people in this story, not just Jesus, Martha, and Mary. In the same chapter, previously, Jesus had just sent out 72 of His disciples. I will not say that all of those 72 disciples joined Jesus, however, at least there were His 12 disciples. See verse 38.

I am not Jewish, however, in early Judaism, which was the current tradition and religion during that time, I know that women were not supposed to be taught about Torah, much less learning from a rabbi, which is what Mary actually was trying to do at that time. She was trying to listen to Jesus, and learn from Him. And it is fair to say that Jesus was actually preaching to His disciples, not Mary specifically.

At the same time, Martha was trying to serve these men. I would have to assume that Mary probably helped Martha to serve, but then she was intrigued by Jesus’ teaching and then sat down on His feet. And as we all know, Jesus scolded Martha.

The point that I am trying to get across is that, often, we had the idea that if we wanted to grow, then we have to stop serving and start listening. I would not say that it’s wrong, but it’s frightening nonetheless. Imagine what would happen if everyone stop serving?

Did Jesus scold Martha? If we see clearly the words that Jesus used to address Martha, it was more towards a gentle reminder, a sarcastic and rhetorical statement for her. If He scolded her, He would not address her name twice (see verse 41), but only once. Jesus was in fact concerned about what Martha had been doing. She was distracted from her purpose of serving Christ and held resentment for her very own sister.

I believe that through this story, God wants to remind us during our life of serving Him:

  • Do not compare your gift with the others (and subsequently resent others)

God wants us to remember that when we serve Him, we should never compare our gifts with one another. Each of us have been given a different gifts , each to their own, and that each of us is a member of the body of Christ. If we start comparing our gifts with one another, soon enough we will start resenting others. Remember that the way Mary served is no better than Martha.

  • Serve God with what you can do

Instead of fretting and wishing what you could have in order to serve, serve Him with what you already have and what you can do. You do not have to be a billionaire to serve Him and give to the church. You can simply be an usher for new comers, or if you are more of the alone-type of person, you could always help to line up the chairs before the service. God gave the gift of hospitality to Martha and she used it well.

  • Do not lose focus when serving God

The most important thing when serving God, is to always focus on Him. One of the common pitfalls of serving God is that people are so busy trying to serve Him, but they lost their reason for serving Him. When Martha was distracted, when she was being too busy in serving Jesus, she lost her reason for serving Him, and she started complaining. If we focus on God when we serve, we will be able to let go everything else, such as jealousy, arrogance, selfishness, among other things.

  • Keep a humble and serving heart

I cannot stress this enough: serving God means everything that you do is and will be for His glory. Having a humble, proper heart when serving Him is important, so that we do not wander off from our purpose of serving Him. Without a humble heart, people will stop serving because they feel that their efforts are wasted. Serving God is a privilege, and it should be treated as such. What do you think Martha do after Jesus “scolded” her? She still served Him! In fact in John 12:1-3, she kept serving Him.

In the last verse of the story, Jesus did say (depending on the translation) “the only thing necessary, Mary had chosen a better portion, which will never be taken away from her”. If we understand the context and the motivation behind Jesus “scolding” Martha, then we will understand that this very verse does not mean that sitting in the presence of the Lord is more important than serving Him, but rather, Jesus wants Martha (and us) to know that the one thing that is important, that is the better portion, that will never be taken away from us, is the fulfilment that we serve God with all that we have.

Stay blessed.

 

PS:

In preparation of this devotional, I have searched for the most correct literal translation of the Bible. While there are no true literal translation, due to the fact some of the meaning of the words will be lost when translating from one language to another, I have found that most people agreed that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is the closest in combining contemporary English, literal translation, and the overall meaning of the verses.

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