On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 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. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:17-44)
I don't know why, but for some reason I always find myself trying to defend Martha whenever I read one of these familiar passages containing her and her sister Mary's story. Maybe it is because I feel sorry for the criticism she endures from various religious circles. Maybe it is because I believe (or hope) she is simply misunderstood. Probably it is because I am really trying to defend (and feel okay about) my Martha-like tendencies. Whatever the case, something always seems to rise up in me--and really rise up in the midst of the folks I talk to from time to time--whenever the Mary/Martha discussion rears its head. It is understandable; we live in a Martha-like culture that values and applauds performance and productivity, busyness and getting things done. I too, through the years, have fallen into the "well Martha can't really help it, that's just the way she's made...it's her personality" way of thinking. But after reading and reading and rereading these stories...I'm not so sure that's the case.
For example, in this particular instance, if we look closely at the details of this interaction, it actually leaves me with a lot of questions. On the surface, Mary and Martha's reaction to the death of their brother looks very similar, but the closer I look, the more and more different they seem to be. For instance, as they hear of Jesus' arrival near Bethany, Martha immediately goes out to meet him, but Mary stays home. Why is that? And as they each approach him, Martha seems to march right up, while Mary falls at his feet. And then there's the fact that Jesus asks Martha a question: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" But for Mary he has no question...only his tears. Instead of asking her about her belief (as he does Martha), He weeps for her. Why are there no tears when Martha comes? And even when He orders them to take away the stone, Mary is silent (I believe hopefully so) while Martha responds: “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Is this the comment of one who truly believes that Jesus is indeed the resurrection and the life? Could it be that as Martha spent her time worried and anxious about many things, and distracted by all the preparations that had to be made, and Mary was sitting at his feet listening to what He had to say, that something happened deep in the heart of Mary that convinced her to her core that Jesus was indeed worthy of her trust, regardless of the circumstances of life? Mary had developed both a posture (at His feet...Luke 10:39, John 11:32, John 12:3) and a practice (listening to what He had to say) that seem to allow her to trust Jesus in a way that Martha was not yet capable of.
Am I being too hard on Martha...maybe...probably. But it has nothing to do with not being fully convinced of the fact that Jesus loved her deeply (see John 11:5) . It has more to do with the quality--or lack thereof--of her relationship with Him. I don't know about you, but I just want more than that. There is so much depth and quality that Martha seems to be missing. I want so much more, and I'll bet you do too. In contrast, Mary just seems to get it. I mean, if you had to pick one of them to sit down with and talk deeply about Jesus, which one would you pick? For me it's a no brainer. I want the one who sat at his feet and listened to all he had to say; the one whose heart was totally and completely captured by Him.
So, I think there is something significant in all of this for me: that the difference between Martha and Mary is not simply one of personality, but something much bigger than that. The difference is one of paradigm; the way the two of them see things. It is a difference in the way they see themselves, and the way they see life, and the way they see Jesus. When we begin to see with Mary's eyes; to see what the better part really is, and set our eyes and our hearts on that...on Him, then true transformation takes place. Transformation that allows us to know God's heart so deeply that we are able to trust His heart, even when we can't see His hand.