The story shows two sisters with very different personalities. Martha was clearly the older sister: she is the one who invited Jesus into their home; she says Mary should be helping her; she seems very much like an older sister – bearing most of the responsibilities and being a more serious person as a result.
Mary gets most of the accolades, doubtless because of Jesus’ words in Luke 10. The younger sister was clearly totally devoted to Jesus and “hung on his every word” (vs.39). Jesus said of her that she had “chosen what is better” in that circumstance (vs. 42) and clearly approved her desire to focus on his words even if at the expense of physical preparations which could, perhaps, have waited. It was apparently Mary, too, [an upcoming blog will show this] who took expensive perfume and anointed Jesus (John 11:2, John 12:1-3). Clearly, Mary was a woman of faith and deep devotion.
But where does this leave Martha, the serious and perhaps too often busy older sister? It is easy to dwell on Mary’s devotion and to miss Martha’s own personal faith which is nowhere clearer than in the story of Jesus raising their brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Notice the story in the Gospel of John, who tells us that Jesus, hearing Lazarus had been buried for four days, proceeded to the home of Martha and Mary:
“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. 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?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world’” (John 11:20-27).
This is one of the most profound acknowledgements of faith that Jesus encountered in His ministry and shows a side of Martha we should not forget. Although we may type her as the older sister, busy in her responsibilities, it was Martha who went out to meet Jesus – who sought him out and asked His help at a time when all others – even apparently Mary herself – were consumed in their grief. Martha does not appear to have been Mary’s subordinate in the faith – both women were dedicated to Jesus, just in different ways; and both were women of exceptional understanding and faith.