We can learn so much from Mary and Martha. Though they aren’t perfect, it’s great to have the example of two women who walked so closely with Jesus. They show us what it is really like to authentically believe in Jesus and be changed because of it.
If you have ever read through the gospels in the New Testament, Mary and Martha are two people that are mentioned that interact with Jesus. You can learn a lot by looking at the encounters they have with Jesus, how they react, and their relationship with him. Mary and Martha are good examples of people living out their faith. There is something that each of us can take away when reading about them.
Where Does the Bible Talk about Mary and Martha?
We hear about Mary and Martha in various places throughout the gospels. At the beginning of John 11, we learn that the sisters have sent word to Jesus about their brother Lazarus who was very ill. Jesus does not come right away when he hears the news but waits a couple of days to go to them. When Jesus does arrive, Lazarus has already been dead a couple of days. Mary and Martha both separately go to him wondering why he didn’t come sooner. Jesus then goes to the tomb of Lazarus and performs the miracle of raising him from the dead. In chapter 12 of John, Jesus is at a dinner where Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are all present. Mary takes some ointment and anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her hair for his upcoming burial. The same encounter is also mentioned in Matthew 26, and Mark 14. Only we are not told the name of the woman who does it. Finally, in Luke 10 we are told about a gathering at the home of Martha. Martha is busy preparing, while Mary chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, but Jesus tells Martha that what Mary is doing is the more important thing at the moment.
Five Things We Can Learn from Mary and Martha
1. Mary knew where her priorities were.
Distractions are all around us. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was so busy making preparations and getting things ready, she was missing out on what Jesus was teaching. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, taking in all that he had to offer. After being questioned by Martha, Jesus calls her out for being “anxious and troubled about many things” (v. 41). Mary is the one who has chosen the “better part” (v. 42).
There is nothing wrong with putting our faith into action by doing things for the Lord, but there definitely has to be a balance. It is easy to get consumed by doing all the right things and feeling like we need to do works for the Lord. Like Martha, if we don’t stop and take time to connect with Jesus by reading the Bible, praying, journaling, sitting still, etc., the works that we try to do for him almost become meaningless. We don’t have to spend time trying to please Jesus, he already loves us unconditionally. Once we do begin to realize how much Jesus does love us, we can start to do works for him out of the love that he has for us.
2. Mary and Martha were not afraid to approach Jesus about how they were feeling.
In John 11:17-37, again we learn that Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, has died. Jesus has just arrived to see them, and both of the sisters greet Jesus one after the other. They both say the same thing to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21, 32).
Neither one of them hid their feelings from Jesus. Even though he is God, they were able to come to him with their honest thoughts. Jesus did not scold them or reprimand them. He reminds them of the truth and feels genuine sadness because of their loss. They don’t have to pretend or hold back their feelings with Jesus. He welcomed it.
We should be encouraged when we read their story. As followers of Jesus, it is comforting to know that we are able to approach him with all of our feelings, even those that might seem ugly. When we are real with Jesus, it helps us trust him more, and we grow in our relationship with him.
3. Mary and Martha believed that Jesus was who he said he was.
Both sisters show through their actions that they know who Jesus is. Martha goes even further than that when speaking with Jesus in John 11:22-27. After telling Jesus that she wished that he was there before Lazarus had died, she says “Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will grant you” (v. 22). She knows what Jesus is capable of. Jesus also asks her if she believes that he is who he says he is. She replies by admitting, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who comes into the world” (v. 27). Even though she might not know exactly how things will go, she knows who Jesus is.
There is power when we remember that Jesus is who he says he is. Though we have never seen Jesus like Mary and Martha have, we can trust that he is God. We can have confidence when we hope in him. That makes even the hardest days easier to face. Jesus has conquered death and been resurrected. If we believe in him, we know that this temporary life is not the end. He made a way for us, and someday we will be with him for eternity.
4. Mary showed her love and devotion for Jesus.
Mary shows us what it means to literally “sit at the feet of Jesus.” Going back to Luke 10:38-42, we see that Mary, “sat at the feet of Jesus and was listening to his teaching” (vs. 39). She knew what was important at the moment, and she made it a priority to listen to him above everything else. Another act that shows she loves Jesus is in John 12:1-8. “Mary took a pound of ointment of very valuable genuine nard and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair” (v. 3). This came at a cost for Mary. It was not a small thing to do this for Jesus. It was a compliment. Mary risked being judged and looking like she was doing something foolish with something so expensive. She did it anyway because she loved Jesus.
In our Christian lives, there are definitely moments that we can run the risk of looking like a fool for the sake of knowing Jesus. There will be times when it will not make sense to the world why we do the things that we do or act as we act. When you understand the amount of love that Jesus has for us, and how much he sacrificed, sometimes you can’t help but look like a fool. His love changes us and makes us show our love and devotion in return.
5. Like Mary and Martha, it’s easy to forget that we have a limited perspective.
Going back to John 11, Mary and Martha had just lost their brother Lazarus. Each of the sisters greets Jesus separately when he arrives at Bethany. They know who Jesus is, and what he is capable of. They knew that if he would have come sooner, that Lazarus might still be alive. Although they don’t understand why, Jesus has a much bigger purpose in his timing. Jesus has them roll away the stone from the tomb, and prays to his Father, “And I know that you always hear me, but for the sake of the crowd standing around I said it, so that they might believe that you sent me” (v. 42). Jesus then commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he raises him from the dead. This miracle was performed so that everyone there might know who Jesus is. If he had come any earlier, a miracle would not have happened, and those present wouldn’t have been given the chance to believe in Jesus.
Like Mary and Martha, we may struggle to understand why things happen the way that they do. It can be hard, but we need to keep the perspective that we can’t see everything that the Lord sees. His purposes are so much higher than ours. Whatever he does, his plan is perfect, and he does it for his glory alone. We can trust that Jesus knows what he is doing, even when we can’t see everything.
We can learn so much from Mary and Martha. Though they aren’t perfect, it’s great to have the example of two women who walked so closely with Jesus. They show us what it is really like to authentically believe in Jesus and be changed because of it. May we follow their example, and believe in Jesus, and walk with him as they did.
Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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Becky Weber is a wife, and mom to 4 kids. She loves to write and speak. She is a pastor’s wife in Sioux Falls, SD where her husband Adam is the lead pastor of Embrace Church. Her passion is to encourage others (especially women) to learn how to walk with Jesus on a daily basis. You can find more writing over at www.becweber.com and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.