Sisters in the Bible: Mary and Martha, Faithful Sisters

Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus and dear friends of Jesus.  They exhibited both jealousy and true faith in the little we know about them from the Bible.

Jesus visited with Mary and Martha

“Martha and Mary were quite different persons. Yet they were members of the same family and lived together in harmony. Their differences did lead to irritations and disputes, but they were family.  They were bound together by family ties and by a common faith in and love for Jesus.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

They appear three different times in the gospel.  All include an interaction with Jesus.

So, let’s join them as they entertain Jesus.  We seem to come upon them as they are meeting Jesus and his disciples for the first time, although we cannot be sure.

Mary sat at Jesus feet

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”    {Luke 10:38-40}

Martha is mentioned first and shown in a role of hostess, which leads many historians to believe she was the head of the household.  The women appear to live together and we do not know if they were spinsters {never married} or widows.

“Martha was one of the dependable persons we can count on to do what’s needed.  We see her working in the kitchen and serving.”  {Women—the Life and Times}

And Martha had the gift of hospitality

Martha is frustrated that Mary is sitting with Jesus soaking up what He is saying, while she is busy preparing the refreshments in the kitchen.  Sadly, I have to admit that I would be more like Martha in this matter than Mary.  But Mary is soaking up everything Jesus is saying.  She seems to sense that there is something very different and special about this man.

“From her first encounter with Christ, Mary seems to have pursue done thing above all—the deepest possible relationship with him.  She soaked up his teaching, took his promises to heart, listened for every change of inflection that would yield more clues about him.  Love gave her insights about others missed.  “{Women of the New Testament}

Mary and Martha had a brother Lazarus

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”   {Luke 10:38-41}

Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen better by listening to him than being worried and upset about needless things.  Our focus here on earth is different from that in heaven.  I know that I often find it easy to become so focus and worried on issues that if I will give them a few days and leave them in the Lord’s hands they always work out.

Lazarus became ill and died

“Jesus’ tender rebuke must have embarrassed and startled her, calculated as it was to break the grip of her self-pity and reveal what was really taking place under her own roof and in her own heart. Perhaps this competent woman realized for the first time just how much she had been missing.”  {Women of the New Testament}

We are not told what Martha did next, but it is very plausible that she joined her sister and listened to what Jesus had to say.

“This is the reminder that there can be no fruitful ministry without first hearing the word.  Mary’s part has priority not only in importance but in time.”  {Women of the New Testament}

Martha asked Jesus why he waited to come

The visit ends and Jesus continues on his way.  At some point Lazarus become sick and the sisters are worried about their brother, so they send word to Jesus.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)  So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But, Jesus does not come right away.  He waits several days and by the time he arrives, Lazarus has died.

 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.  {John 11:20}

Mary went as soon as she heard Jesus was on the way

“This time Martha dropped everything.  She didn’t concern herself with the mourners in her home and their needs.  She ran to Jesus.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

She knew Jesus was the only one that could help them.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  {Luke 11:21-22}

Martha shows her faith in Jesus ability.  She believes that Jesus would have healed her brother and “even now” God will answer any prayers Jesus has.  She is not sure what she is asking for, but she expects Jesus to work wonders.

“How like Martha most of us are.  We have faith in Jesus—even great faith.  Yet when we are called on to exercise that faith in impossible situations, we focus on the obstacles rather than on God’s unlimited ability to act.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

Mary knew if Jesus had been there her brother would be alive

 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”   {John 11:23-24}

Jesus tells Martha her brother will rise again, but she is thinking about the last days and not that very day.  But, Jesus is about to tell her exactly who He is and what He can offer.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth

 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”   {John 11:25-27}

Martha affirms her belief that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.   {John 11:28-31}

Martha runs back to tell her that Jesus is here.  Mary jumps up and runs out to meet him, leaving all of those with her in surprise, as they begin to follow her.

the stone was rolled away

“ When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  {John 11:32}

Mary shows her faith and believe, as her sister did, that Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying.

“Mary, on the other hand, was a freer spirit.  Her first priority was spending time with Jesus—not cooking in the kitchen. Mary was spiritually sensitive, displaying an awareness of Jesus’ moods that none of the disciples seemed to have.  Mary was also emotionally expressive, weeping freely and loving generously.”  {Women—the Life and Times}

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

Lazarus came forth

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.    {John 11:33-39}

“Then Mary wept, and seeing her weep, Jesus also wept.  Jesus’ tears are mixed with anger…His anger is that death is still wreaking havoc on the world.  Jesus’ victory over death will come with the resurrection and ascension.”  {Women of the New Testament}

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”    {John 11:40}

Lazarus was alive

Mary begins to weep, which moves Jesus so much that he begins to weep.  But, Jesus also knows what Lazarus is leaving behind to return.  But, Martha is being practical.  After being dead for four days, there is no doubt that there is an odor.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.   {John 11:40-44}

Lazarus steps out and comes forth and the glory of God shines forth.  Tears and awe would have stung both Marth and Mary’s cheeks as they rushed to embrace the brother they deeply loved, but thought they would never see again.

Life goes on and Jesus returns before the Passover.  Mary again, seems to sense what is about to happen.

Later Mary anointed Jesus

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.   {John 12:1-3}

Notice that once again, Martha is serving.

“Jesus was not just Martha’s friend.  He was her Messiah…Jesus did not want Martha to stop being Martha.  Her warm hospitality and servant’s heart blessed him greatly.  He loved her for it.  But he wanted her to know—beyond any doubt—whom she served and why.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

But, what did Mary do?

“Mary later “took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” and poured it on the Lord’s feet and then wiped them dry with her hair.  Mary knew nothing about Jesus’ imminent betrayal and crucifixion.  However, in a way the men around Jesus did not, she perceived and responded to Jesus’ pain and need for comfort.  Without restraint, she gave all she had to the Lord.  Her gift was very costly, but she gladly spent it in love with Jesus.”  {Women of the Bible Study Bible}

Mary anointed the Lord.  He understood the significance of what was about to happen.   {Within a week he would be arrested and crucified.}  But, Mary did not know that then.

Martha had a servant’s heart and did all she could to be a good hostess.  I have several

Mary anointed Jesus feet

friends that have been granted the gift of hospitality and have such welcoming hearts.  This was Martha.

Mary is very different from her sister.  One may even say she is studious.  She soaks up all that Jesus says and later, without knowing why, she anoints him.  We are told she uses “an expensive perfume” so this was done with an unselfish and giving heart and all because she loved the Lord.

Yet, even with their differences, both women had faith and believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  They witness first hand, Jesus power and miracles.

Mary did not know she was preparing Jesus for burial

I love my sister dearly, but we are very different, just as Mary and Martha were different.  That does not mean that one of us is better than the other, but that we have very different gifts, abilities and interest.

Mary and Martha learned to bridge the gap in their personalities, to work together and serve Jesus in their own way.  That is all He wants from any of us.  To serve him, using the gifts, abilities and interest He has bestowed on us.

Often it is easy to be envious or jealous of our sister{s} because they have different gifts.  That does not make them better than us, but she has a different calling on her life than we may have on ours.

How are you using your gifts, abilities and interest for God’s glory?


Mary & Martha were friends of Jesus but struggled with jealousy & faith Click To Tweet

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