A Favoured Home

Jesus has developed some very special friendships beyond His close relationship with the twelve disciples. These special friends include one brother named Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha. One day, Jesus and his team of twelve pass by their home and are invited to stay for a meal, as you can read in Luke 10:38

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha, opened her home to Him.

It does mean a lot of extra work for Martha, for suddenly this meal is not just for three people but for sixteen people, including thirteen very hungry men, for these men will have been on the road for a few hours already, and their previous meal may well have been some time ago. So Martha goes to work. First of all, she must make a quick trip back to the market. Hopefully, she will still be able to get what she needs so she can provide her guests with an excellent meal. After all, she is known in the village for her culinary skills. Once back from the market, she gets to work in the kitchen. But where is her sister Mary? Let’s read Luke 10:39 to find out

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He said.

Doesn’t Mary know that she is needed here in the kitchen? It is true, Martha knows that she is a very capable housekeeper, and that Mary is not as interested in household duties, especially since they have gotten to know Jesus. But they are having many guests, and surely Mary must realise that right now her place is with her in the kitchen helping her with the preparations for the meal. However, knowing Mary, she has totally forgotten what she should be doing and will be sitting at the feet of Jesus, completely absorbed in the things He is teaching her. She must go to Jesus and tell Him to sort Mary out for, no doubt, He will agree with her that Mary needs to give her a hand in the kitchen in order for her to provide them with that delicious meal she has in mind for them. She cannot possibly be expected to do the work all by herself. Oh, if only Mary was more like her, more practically minded… Well, she better go and speak to Jesus right now for there is too much to be done here. After all, Jesus, being a Jew, knows that the place of any Jewish woman is in the kitchen and not at the feet of a teacher. To be honest, she doesn’t quite understand how Jesus can accept Mary at His feet, for no respectable teacher would ever allow a woman to do so. But Jesus does, and that may well cost Him His reputation one day. So perhaps she can even help Him keep His reputation by telling Him to remind Mary to do what is right; to help her in the kitchen with the food preparations, as you can read in Luke 10:40

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!”

But things do not work out the way Martha expects, for when she approaches Jesus, she fully expects Him to agree with her and to tell Mary off for listening to Him, despite the crisis in the kitchen. But is that what Jesus does?

Let’s read Luke 10:41-42 to find out

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Contrary to Martha’s expectation, Jesus lovingly helps Martha to see that she has allowed the stress of the moment to take over her life. Therefore, she is not able to recognise what matters most while Mary, because she has been spending time at Jesus’ feet whenever possible, does understand what matters most. Does this mean that Martha does not love the Lord Jesus? No, not at all, but she remains that practical person, as you can see in John 11, where we read the story of the illness of their brother Lazarus. Let’s read John 11:1-4

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.” When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Martha and Mary’s brother, Lazarus, has become ill and the sisters are expecting Jesus to quickly come to heal him. However, things do not happen as they expect, as you can read in John 11:5-16

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet, when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days. Then He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone You, and yet You are going back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

It seems Jesus takes no notice of the urgent request of Lazarus’ sisters to come, for He makes no move to leave the place where He is. Finally, after two days He and His twelve disciples decide to go to Bethany, the village where Lazarus, Martha and Mary live. However, it looks like Jesus has come too late, as you can read in John 11:17-19

On His arrival Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 

The ever practical Martha decides that she needs to tell Jesus off for not coming any sooner, as you can read in John 11:20-27

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. ”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.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Jesus’ words to her do bring her a measure of comfort, so she goes home to tell her sister Mary Jesus has arrived in the village, and would like to see her, as you can read in John 11:28-31

And 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.

When Mary sees Jesus, she shows Him her grief using the exact same words her sister Martha used earlier on “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” However, she does not say these words to tell Jesus off, she says these words to share her deep felt pain with the Lord, as you can read in John 11:32-37

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.” 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. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Martha’s words did not move Jesus to tears, but Mary’s words cause Him to weep with her. This is followed by Him going to the tomb. On His arrival, He tells the people to remove the stone, as you can read in John 11:38-39a

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said.

Once again, the ever practical Martha speaks up, as you can read in John 11:39b

“But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there for four days.”

Martha knows that the body of a person who has been dead for four days has decomposed already to such a degree that it will give off a terrible smell. Perhaps, Jesus does not realise that. After all, He has never been around a person who has been dead for such a long time. Every time that He had been around a dead person that person had only been dead for a few hours and, in each case, He had brought that person back to life as Martha remembers from the stories she has heard. The first story she remembers is about the widow’s son who had been raised from the dead,

as you can read in Luke 7:11-15

Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a large crowd went along with Him. As He approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, “Don’t cry.” Then He went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

The second story she remembers is about a twelve year-old girl. Luke writes about her in 8:40-42

Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed Him, for they were all expecting Him. Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with Him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

She died, in fact. But Jesus brought her back to life, as you can read in Luke 8:53-55

They laughed at Him, knowing that she was dead. But He took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”

But the situation with Lazarus is totally different, for Lazarus has not been dead for a few hours only, or even for just one or two days. No, he has been dead for four days. Jesus will not realise that, for He was not with them while Lazarus was dying. He only arrived on the scene an hour or so ago. However, it seems Jesus completely ignores Martha’s practical advice, for He continues to tell them that they are to remove the stone, as you can read in John 11:40-44

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that  You sent Me.” When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Of course, the two sisters are overjoyed that their brother has come back to life, and so a dinner is prepared in honour of Jesus. You can find this story in John 12. Let’s read John 12:1-2

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with them.

Martha is in her element preparing her special dishes for Jesus. She wants to show Him her love and gratitude for giving them back their brother Lazarus. Mary wants to show Jesus her love and gratitude as well, but she does it in a different way, as you can read in John 12:3

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.

While Martha is serving her delicious dinner, Mary slips into the bedroom. She knows that she is not the excellent cook that Martha is, and she knows she will never be as good as Martha when it comes to cooking the special dishes Martha is known for.  However, she knows that she can show her gratitude to the Lord in a way that will please Him as much as eating her sister’s dishes will please Him. So she quietly slips into the bedroom and gets from the special place, where she keeps her treasures, a bottle of the special perfume she has kept all these years, for she knows the moment has come to use this perfume. But she knows too that this perfume is not to be used on herself. So she re-enters the dining room where everyone is gathered around the table, moves behind Jesus and without saying a word, pours the perfume over His feet. She then loosens her hair and uses it as a towel with which to dry His feet. Everyone at the table watches what Mary does, shocked by her actions, for no woman would loosen her hair in public. But Mary does not care about her dignity. All she cares about is showing her love and gratitude to Jesus, just as Martha did by cooking her most special dishes for Him. Then Judas speaks up, complaining about Mary’s behavior, as you can read in John 12:4-6

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

However, Jesus tells Judas off, for He knows the reason why Mary poured the perfume on His feet, as you can read in John 12:7-8

“Leave her alone, “Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”

Jesus understands that she has done this to prepare Him for His burial. And Mary, very likely, knows that the time for His crucifixion is near. Other disciples may not have grasped that fact, but spending time at His feet has helped her to understand that Jesus has come into the world to die for her, and that the time of His death is close at hand.

These two sisters both love the Lord and both show it in their own way. I wonder who you can identify with most. You may say, “I can really identify with Martha for I am a very practical person like she is. I can see myself saying and doing the same things she did”. Or you may say, “I can identify more with Mary for I love to sit and pray and meditate on God’s Word.”

I would like to suggest that you can learn from both women. For those of us who tend to be more practical, Mary can teach us to sit at the feet of Jesus. Of course, today you cannot literally sit at His feet, but you can sense His Presence with you when you read His Word and when you pray. But the Lord does not only want you to be like Mary and sit at His feet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you can learn from Him. He wants you to be like Martha as well, meaning He would like for you to do the things He has prepared for you to do as, you can read in Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

When you spend time in His Presence, reading His Word and praying, the Lord will begin to give you a sense what He has for you to do. Moreover, He will give you the ability to do, whatever it is He has prepared for you to do, so you will be able to do it well, and be a blessing to others.

Love Poured Out