Her home was evidently large, but thirteen unexpected guest would be a stretch for any hostess. And, considering there was no microwave or dishwasher or even a refrigerator, the challenge of serving a large, unexpected, crowd must have been daunting. I’m surprised Martha even had nerve to issue such an invitation. Granted, having Jesus and His crew for supper would be an honor, but she must have possessed resources and a large dose of confidence to pull it off on short notice. Not to mention a staff of servants.
Like the sister of Moses, Martha was the oldest of three siblings. She, along with Mary and their brother, Lazarus, were probably orphans. The Bible never mentions a father or mother and when the children are listed, Martha’s name always comes first. She and the others had likely inherited the big house and a business as well which provided a continual income.
Mary was evidently several years younger than Martha and Lazarus no more than a teen, so the full responsibility of running everything had probably rested on her shoulders for a number of years. The home is even referred to as “her” house. She was the matriarch of the family running everything and giving orders that kept everyone in line. She seems to be one of those people who “have it all together” because she ran both the home and the business with ease and kept the family wealthy for the entire three years scripture records their history. Martha not only knew what should be done, she knew who should do it and when.
She also has a temper and it flared quickly when things were not going to her high expectations. We find her twice in the Bible and both times she is ticked off because things are falling apart as others refuse to do their duty—at least, they are not doing it the way Martha wants it done!
When Martha invited so many people to dinner that day, the kitchen must have kicked into high gear. What to serve, what to drink, where was the good tablecloth and were the silver goblets shined? Details. Success rested on well executed details. And, where was her little sis? In the other room with the men listening while Jesus talked!
At last the frustrated Martha had all she could stand. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” But, Jesus put things in perspective by reminding her that much of her busy running around was pointless. Only a few things were truly necessary. Who cared if the silver wasn’t shined? Setting a perfect table and being a perfect hostess might be important to Martha, but it was not important to Jesus. There were other things going on that far outweighed dinner.
The second time she appears in the gospels, Martha is a broken, grieving woman. She seems to have learned much about what is really important in life. But, old habits die hard and even now there is a mild rebuke in her voice as she tells Jesus, “If You had been her, my brother would not have died.” As Jesus had once encouraged her to focus on what was really important in life, He now encouraged her to see what was really important about death. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
It is not a sin to be a Martha personality. Our world needs take-charge leaders who speak out when they think things are wrong. But if these talented, have-it-all-together people let their focus drift from what is ultimately important, they make their own lives miserable and the lives of those around them as well.
What about your world? Do you know a Martha who needs to balance her talent with an eternal perspective? Maybe that “Martha” is you.
Read Martha’s story in Luke 10:38-41 and John 11:01-12:3