By Elaine Saville
Painting by David Lindsley (www.davidlindsley.com)
Do you ever think about different people you would like to meet when you get to heaven? Someone I would like to meet is Martha. I’d like to tell her how inspired I was in reading the way she responded to Jesus when He came to Lazarus’ tomb.
Too often Martha is primarily seen as the one who was such a workaholic that she didn’t value resting in Jesus’ Presence. And yet, I think there is a lot more to Martha to be considered. She was the one who ran out to greet Jesus when He came to the tomb and stated her belief that He was able to heal. Martha was convinced God would do whatever Jesus asked. Like Peter, she made one of the most profound declarations of faith we hear of in the Bible: When Jesus asked if she believed, her reply was, “Yes, Lord, I do! I’ve always believed that you are the Anointed One, the Son of God who has come into the world for us!” (John 11:27 TPT).
So, what did the Holy Spirit want to teach us by putting the account of her “missing the better part” in the Bible? If we look at the evidence, I think it was something more than just to discipline ourselves to sit at Jesus’ feet.
Before we explore an important, though often overlooked, message in this story, let’s explore the context within which it took place. Martha was a disciple and friend of Jesus. As was the custom, Martha would have had many times of sitting at His feet, learning from and communing with Him. It doesn’t seem likely that Martha’s actions on that day were the result of undervaluing Jesus’ presence, or because she didn’t love him as much as Mary. It is also important to note that Martha didn’t have to work. According to historical evidence, Martha’s household was the wealthiest one in Bethany, which would explain why her sister possessed such costly perfume. The family would have had servants to do the bulk of the work. Martha’s job as the oldest would have been to oversee the servants, but not to do the serving herself. Why then would Martha have been busying about instead of sitting?
I believe the Holy Spirit included this account to highlight a mindset which was prevalent in her day, and still is today. It has to do with God’s love. She was working hard to show Him that she loved Him, to earn His recognition and possibly even His love. She might have felt some jealousy too, feeling as though Jesus loved Mary more. It is interesting to note that Martha believed in Him as Messiah, King, and even Healer, but she needed a revelation of Him as the “Lover of Her Soul.” She didn’t understand that His love was not only freely given, it was eternal and limitless. I had the feeling Jesus was not rebuking her as much as reassuring her. She could rest, as Mary was, in His love. He knew she loved Him; she didn’t have to prove it through works. Simply sitting at His feet was enough.
It is easy to fall prey to a belief that we need to work hard to show God we love Him, and to earn His love. It is also easy to become jealous over the perceived favoritism of God towards a person over ourselves. This is because it is tied with a misunderstanding of who God is and who we are as sons and daughters of God. These beliefs can be very deep seated, and very subtle. It takes help from the Holy Spirit to see how they influence us to work for a love that’s already been given.
From where do these (often subconscious) beliefs arise? When we are children, our world revolves around our parents. They become our representation of God. If we grow up in a family in which we experience love with conditions, then our image of God becomes one of Him as requiring something of us so we might earn His love. Frustration ensues when we burn ourselves out and still don’t “feel’ like He loves us, and/or don’t believe we are showing Him enough devotion to please Him. One time the Lord spoke to me and said, “You can be a ‘pew potato’ – never do anything except sit in a church pew – the rest of your life, and I will not love you any more or less than I do right now.” It is important to become aware of the “conditional love wounds” from our childhoods so we might give them to Jesus for healing.
Unfortunately, our theological training contributes to this mindset as well. So often we are taught in such a way that we learn to “put the cart before the horse.” We want to work for Him to get His love, rather than serve Him out of an overflow of gratitude for the love He has already imparted to us. Paul addressed this beautifully in scripture by meticulously revealing the truth of our imputed righteousness and the amazing gift of grace. One way to overcome “works theology” is to read and meditate on truths from these scriptures. We can’t earn His love, and He doesn’t love us any more or any less than another.
Service is meant to be born out of the experience of our love relationship with Him. We love because He loved us first. We gain a revelation of who God is (Love) and who we are (Beloved) by resting in Him, much like Mary did, at Jesus’ feet.
I firmly believe Martha felt so reassured and loved that day, that she immediately stopped serving and sat beside her sister. She got it, the better part. She knew Him as King, Messiah, Healer, and Lover of Her Soul. She was an amazing woman of faith with an incredible revelation of Jesus. I look forward to one day hearing in her own words the story about her experiences with Jesus.