Martha of Bethany
Martha of Bethany along with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus are well known figures in the New Testament. Their home at Bethany was known to be a place of refuge and refreshment for the Lord and His disciples. The story of Jesus raising Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days, recorded in John 11:1-45, is one of the best loved events in the gospels.
Almost invariably when we hear a sermon or teaching concerning Martha it is to emphasise her ‘busyness’ in the Lord’s Presence while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. We remember Martha as the woman ‘distracted with much serving’ to whom Jesus said: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)
However, there is another side to Martha for which she is rarely, if ever, remembered. In John 11:21-27 we find a remarkable conversation between Jesus and Martha, the importance of which has largely been ignored throughout Christian history. As Jesus and Martha meet on the road to Bethany He confronts her with the statement: “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
Now please notice Martha’s immediate reply:
"Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
How can it be that this profound and remarkable revelation from the lips of a Jewish woman has been so consistently overlooked?
Much is made of a similar statement made by Peter, on another road at another time, which is recorded in Mark 8:29:
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." Peter’s revelation that Jesus was the Christ has been the subject of countless sermons, books and theological discussions. Throughout Christian history, Peter has been admired and respected for the significance of those profound words he blurted out on the road to Jerusalem, “You are the Christ.”
But what of Martha’s equally significant revelation on the road to Bethany?
The gospels record the same revelation given to two followers of Christ at two different times, one a man and one a woman. Yet throughout Christian history Peter, with all his faults, has been commended for his confession of Jesus as the Christ, while Martha, with all her faults, has been remembered for being distracted and busy. Could it be the words of a woman have been traditionally regarded as less profound and less important than the words of a man? I believe so.
Regardless of history, one thing is absolutely clear from the scriptures. God shows no such bias. It was He, through the Holy Spirit, who chose to give the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah to both Martha and to Peter. Jesus sought to draw that revelation out of Martha’s heart just as eagerly as He sought to draw it out of Peter’s heart. It was as deeply important to Him for His female disciple, Martha, to know Him as the Christ, as it was for His male disciples to know Him in that role. Martha’s confession carried as much weight in Heaven as Peter’s did, for God looks on the heart and not on the outward form (1 Sam. 16:7).
Perhaps it’s time we freed Martha from the traditional box we have created for her. Though she had her faults, the same can be said of Peter. Both experienced the Lord’s rebuke, but both were among the first to be granted the revelation of Who He truly is. Isn’t it time Martha was recognised for the inspiration and encouragement to women that the scriptures show she should be, as well as the negative role she has been traditionally assigned?