The Case for Martha…

Posted by on Feb 14, 2021 in Blog | 4 comments

person in white shirt with brown wooden frame
Photo by cottonbro on

My last post explored the Luke 10 account of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha – and noted that the interchange on Mary’s decision to sit listening to the teaching of Jesus rather than to help Martha in the kitchen, left Mary with a choice. Would she accept Jesus’ verdict of her decision (Mary has chosen what is better), or Martha’s implied view (Mary is a lazy, impractical leech)? Whose voice we listen to is indeed important.

Some lively discussion of the post followed – both on Facebook and in the comment section on WordPress – and an underlying sympathy for Martha’s plight was obvious. After all, while Jesus was unimpressed by the stress Martha experienced in getting the meal prepared, his tune (and certainly the tune of his disciples if they accompanied him – and they probably did) might have been different if 3 hours later no drinks or snacks had materialized. As is said, we might not live on bread alone, but we certainly can’t live without it. 

Whatever – I promised a follow up piece, “The Case for Martha”, and here it is…

First up, Martha was hospitable – and hospitality is highly valued in scripture. As Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, when we practice hospitality we might entertain angels unawares… in this instance it was better than angels – it was the Messiah himself. Luke 10:38 informs us that while “Jesus and his disciples were on their way… a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” In other words, Jesus and his disciples were travelling, needed hospitality, and Martha took the initiative to open her home. It’s not always easy to have strangers muddy your floors, and clutter your lounge room – so good on Martha. She was not selfish or protective of her domain – she was willing to open it to others. I like her already. Give her 5 out of 5 for that.

Second, the passage suggests that Martha wasn’t being melodramatic. V 40 puts it: “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Note Lukes sympathetic tone, “all the preparations…” Seems that Luke understood there was lots to be done. Don’t forget, no microwave, no dishwasher, no supermarket, no frozen meals – let alone dial in Uber meals. The anticipated meal for 2 (perhaps 3 if Lazarus was home), is suddenly a meal for 15 (16 including Lazarus). Now I am no superchef, but even I get that this represents a fair jump. And what if they had originally planned beans on toast? Clearly that wouldn’t do – regardless of what people say, guests do expect something a little bit special. And what if it wasn’t just a meal – but a bed for the night… and was that a bed for Jesus alone or also his 12 disciples? You see, I am also becoming distracted at the potential magnitude of this task (all that bed linen!) Martha, I get you. Only normal to have been a tad distracted.

Third, Jesus’ ministry benefited from the willingness of people like Martha to help with practical details. Jesus notes in Matt 8:20 that: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And indeed, Jesus was not a homeowner – and if he had been, he would not often have been there, for his was a travelling ministry. Now I am not going to quibble with Jesus, but let’s note that while he often slept out in the open (and seems to have enjoyed the solitude), there were many times when he was an invited guest. He might not have owned the homes he stayed in, but he did benefit from the kindness shown. Martha was one of those large hearted people who didn’t draw a sharp line around what was hers and what was available to others. Jesus’ ministry – and the ministry of countless Christian people (myself included) – has been greatly helped by the Martha’s of this world. When I look at the Martha’s who have assisted me, I simply want to say, “thank you”. 

Fourth, though we don’t get it from this passage, John 11:21-27 shows Martha to be a person of extraordinary faith. Martha’s brother Lazarus has died. They had called for Jesus’ assistance, but he arrived too late – too late… except hear Martha’s remarkable words: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “ if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  OK, that part sounds like a bit of a reprimand – and maybe Martha was a bit of a scolder. But listen to what follows: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Don’t tell me that’s not faith… She is clearly saying, Jesus, just give the word, and Lazarus will rise from the dead. 

But there is more… Please don’t gloss over v27. Martha is speaking to Jesus: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” Wow Martha, that’s a 100% score. Most of the disciples didn’t get that. It took Jesus’ resurrection to convince them. But here we are, before the crucifixion, and Martha is proclaiming Jesus as Messiah – the Son of God. A pre-crucifixion and resurrection fully accurate witness to the divinity of Jesus by a flustered chef, who presumably managed to follow and believe the drift of Jesus’ teaching even while stopping the beans from catching. Martha – you are awesome – perhaps even a little intimidating.  

Yup – but some of you are already alerting me to John 11:39. Jesus is just about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and instructs that the stone be rolled away from his tomb. The ever practical Martha objects, “But, Lord, “ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there will be a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 

So what has happened to Martha’s earlier faith? 

Jesus picks up on this as well. Listen to his reply: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” What do you think Jesus’ tone was when he said this? Was it exasperated? I suspect not. I think it was encouraging. “Martha – this is the hard bit. Don’t give up now. We are about to enter miracle territory. I know you believe – don’t let the doubting part of you take over…” 

Martha says no more, and watches a miracle take place. As Lazarus walks out the grave Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”  I think I know who probably did that…

So that’s the case for Martha. Not too shabby, is it? 

And yet… and yet… so close, but still flustered. So full of faith, and yet sometimes doubting. So amazing and so ordinary. So like us. Jesus clearly thought that Mary was rather special. But I don’t doubt that he thought Martha was special as well…

As always, nice chatting…


  1. CommentA wonderful reflection. Thanks Brian

    • Thanks Karen. There is so much in this encounter. The biblical accounts have so much depth.

  2. Thank you. I enjoyed this.


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