Years and years ago, when I was in a high school writing class, we were asked to write our own obituary. I remember us all laughing nervously, it sounded so macabre! But it was the teacher’s sideways device to get us to write about our hopes and dreams. What would we want to be remembered for someday?
And it made me wonder what Martha would have wanted to be remembered for?
Most of us remember the Martha depicted in Luke’s Gospel, the busy beaver who is reprimanded by Jesus, and chastened to be more like her spiritual sister Mary.
But I don’t think that’s the Martha Jesus knew, and knows to this today.
The stories we have about Martha give the sense she was the oldest sister to Mary and Lazarus, smart, capable, responsible, trustworthy, and solid—kind of like Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s older sister. No mention is made of Martha and her siblings’ parents, perhaps indicating both their mother and father had died, yet all three siblings appear to have been living together.
Since neither Martha nor Mary are introduced with any other male association than their brother, and no wife is mentioned for Lazarus, it is reasonable to assume they were all young and as yet unmarried. Lazarus, because he was the male, would have been the head of their household, and Martha as the elder sister would have been the matriarch.
Both Luke’s and John’s gospels indicate these three people were part of Jesus’ inner circle of friends and supporters, ones whom Jesus loved and entrusted himself to.
Some scholars surmise Lazarus was the rich young synagogue ruler spoken of in Matthew 19, who eventually did come to faith and become one of Jesus’ close friends. And judging from their means, the ability to house and feed Jesus and his disciples, and owning between them at least one full pound of nard—valued at a year’s worth of wages—Martha and her household were among the wealthier inhabitants of Bethany.
The Gospels tell three stories about Martha. In the first story she opened her home to the Lord Jesus and his disciples who were with him.
The next place we see Martha and Mary is at their brother’s funeral. Both sisters were deeply hurt and disappointed that Jesus had delayed in coming.
In Martha’s final appearance, she was once again serving dinner at a large celebration in Simon the Leper’s home, thrown in honor of Jesus and her brother Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead.
I think the way Martha would have liked to be remembered was as a woman of bold faith and blessed service, who was able to leave the conventions of her old life and enter into the grace and freedom Jesus offers, who opened the doors of her home and her heart to Jesus and all who come with him, who is bonded in love and faith to God through Christ.
Each video is designed to offer background scholarship on the topic, including setting, culture, original language, and archaeology, as well as a theological study.
The “Broken, Searching, Trusted, Powerful” series is a companion to the book, available on Amazon, and published by Wipf and Stock.