1. Describe Martha’s grief and its cause.
MARTHA could see it in her mind’s eye—her brother’s tomb, a cave sealed with a stone against the entrance. Her grief was a burden as cold and heavy as that rock. She could barely believe that her beloved Lazarus was gone. The four days since he had taken his last breath seemed like one long blur of mourning, visitors, and condolences.
2, 3. (a) Seeing Jesus likely had what effect on Martha? (b) What did Martha’s important statement show about her?
2 And now, standing before Martha was the man who had meant the most to Lazarus. Seeing Jesus likely brought her grief into sharp focus, for he was the one person in all the world who could have saved her brother. Still, Martha found some comfort in being with Jesus here outside the little hillside town of Bethany. In her few moments with him, she again felt warmed by the kindness in his eyes, the keen empathy that was always so encouraging. He asked her questions that helped her to focus on her faith and on her beliefs about the resurrection. The conversation led Martha to make one of the most important statements that would ever pass her lips: “I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God, the One coming into the world.”—John 11:27.
3 As those words show, Martha was a woman of remarkable faith. What little the Bible tells us of her imparts profound lessons that can help us strengthen our own faith. To see how that is so, let us consider the first account about Martha in the Bible.
“Anxious and Disturbed”
4. In what way was Martha’s family unusual, and what was the family’s relationship with Jesus?
4 It was months earlier. Lazarus was alive and well. His home in Bethany was about to receive the most important of visitors, Jesus Christ. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were an unusual family—three grown siblings who evidently shared a home. Some researchers suggest that Martha may have been the eldest of the three, since she seems to have acted as hostess and at times is mentioned first. (John 11:5) There is no way of knowing whether any of the three were ever married. At any rate, they became close friends of Jesus. During his ministry in Judea, where he met so much opposition and hostility, Jesus made their home his base. No doubt, he greatly appreciated that haven of peace and support.
5, 6. (a) Why was Martha particularly busy during Jesus’ present visit? (b) How did Mary respond to the opportunity afforded by Jesus’ presence at their home?
5 Martha had much to do with the comfort and hospitality of the home. A busy, industrious soul, she often seems to have been in a flurry of activity. The present occasion of Jesus’ visit was no exception. She soon planned a special meal with many dishes for her distinguished guest and, perhaps, some of his traveling companions. Back then, hospitality was very important. When a guest arrived, he was welcomed with a kiss, his sandals were removed, his feet were washed, and his head was greased with refreshing perfumed oil. (Read Luke 7:44-47.) As to his accommodations and nourishment, every care was to be taken.
6 Martha and Mary had their work cut out for them. Mary, who is sometimes thought of as the more sensitive and contemplative of the two, surely helped her sister out at first. But after Jesus arrived, things changed. He viewed the occasion as a time to teach—and teach he did! Unlike the religious leaders of the day, Jesus respected women and readily taught them about God’s Kingdom, the theme of his ministry. Mary, thrilled at this opportunity, sat at his feet and took in every word.
7, 8. Why did tension rise within Martha’s heart, and how did she finally express it?
7 We can just imagine the tension rising within Martha’s heart. With all the dishes she had to prepare and all the duties she had to carry out for her guests, she became more and more anxious and distracted. As she passed to and fro on her busy way and saw her sister sitting there doing nothing to help her, did she color slightly, sigh audibly, or frown? It would not be surprising if she did. She could not do all this work on her own!
8 Finally, Martha could no longer suppress her frustration. She interrupted Jesus, blurting out: “Lord, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.” (Luke 10:40) These were strong words. A number of translations render her question to this effect: “Lord, do you not care . . . ?” Then she asked Jesus to correct Mary, to order her back to work.
9, 10. (a) How did Jesus reply to Martha? (b) How do we know that Jesus was not dismissing Martha’s hard work?
9 Jesus’ reply may have surprised Martha, as it has many Bible readers since. He gently said: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one. For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, 42) What did Jesus mean? Was he calling Martha a materialist? Was he dismissing her hard work in preparing a fine meal?
10 No. Jesus clearly saw that Martha’s motives were loving and pure. Further, he did not feel that even bounteous hospitality was necessarily wrong. He had willingly attended Matthew’s “big reception feast” for him sometime earlier. (Luke 5:29) Martha’s meal was not the key issue here; rather, it was her priorities. So focused was she on her elaborate meal that she lost sight of what mattered most. What was that?
Jesus appreciated Martha’s hospitality, and he knew that her motives were loving and pure
11, 12. How did Jesus gently correct Martha?
11 Jesus, the only-begotten Son of Jehovah God, was in Martha’s home to teach the truth. Nothing, including her lovely meal and preparations, could be more important. Jesus was no doubt saddened that Martha was missing out on a unique opportunity to deepen her faith, but he let her make her own choice.* It was quite another thing, though, for Martha to ask Jesus to coerce Mary into missing out as well.
12 So he gently corrected Martha, repeating her name soothingly to calm her agitated nerves, and he assured her that there was no need to be “anxious and disturbed about many things.” A simple meal of one or two dishes would be sufficient, especially when a spiritual feast was available. By no means, then, would he take away from Mary “the good portion” she had chosen—that of learning from Jesus!
13. What lessons can we learn from the way that Jesus corrected Martha?
13 This little domestic scene is rich in lessons for Christ’s followers today. We must never allow anything to crowd out the filling of our “spiritual need.” (Matt. 5:3) While we want to imitate Martha’s generous, industrious spirit, we never want to become so “anxious and disturbed” about the less essential part of hospitality that we miss out on what matters most. We associate with fellow believers, not primarily for the sake of serving or receiving sumptuous food, but mainly for an interchange of encouragement and the imparting of spiritual gifts. (Read Romans 1:11, 12.) Even the simplest meal may make such an upbuilding occasion possible.
A Beloved Brother Lost—And Restored
14. Why can we be sure that Martha set a good example in accepting correction?
14 Did Martha accept Jesus’ gentle reproof and learn from it? We need not wonder. The apostle John, in introducing a thrilling account about Martha’s brother, reminds us: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) Months had passed since Jesus’ visit to Bethany described above. Clearly, Martha had not indulged in sulking; she was not nursing a grudge against Jesus for his loving counsel. She had taken it to heart. In this matter too, she set an excellent example of faith for us, for who of us does not need a little correction at times?
15, 16. (a) How did Martha surely respond when her brother took ill? (b) Why were Martha’s and Mary’s hopes dashed?
15 When her brother took ill, Martha surely busied herself with his care. She did everything in her power to soothe his discomfort and help him get better. Nonetheless, Lazarus sank still deeper into his illness. Hour after hour, his sisters stayed by his side to care for him. How often Martha must have gazed into her brother’s haggard face, remembering their many years together and the joys and sorrows they had shared!
16 When it looked as if Lazarus was beyond their help, Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus. He was preaching some two days’ journey away. Their message was simple: “Lord, see! the one for whom you have affection is sick.” (John 11:1, 3) They knew that Jesus loved their brother, and they had faith that he would do whatever he could to help his friend. Did they cling to the hope that Jesus might arrive before it was too late? If so, their hopes were dashed. Lazarus died.
17. What puzzled Martha, and how did she react when she heard that Jesus was nearing the town?
17 Together, Martha and Mary mourned their brother, taking care of the preparations for his burial and receiving the many guests from Bethany and its environs. Still, no news of Jesus. Martha may have grown more puzzled as the time passed. Finally, four days after Lazarus’ death, Martha heard that Jesus was nearing the town. Ever the woman of action, even in this grim hour, Martha got up and, without telling Mary, rushed out to meet Jesus.—Read John 11:18-20.
18, 19. Martha expressed what hope, and why was her faith remarkable?
18 When Martha caught sight of her Master, she put into words the thought that had been tormenting her and Mary for days: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” But hope and faith were not dead in Martha. She added: “And yet at present I know that as many things as you ask God for, God will give you.” Jesus immediately said something to strengthen her faith: “Your brother will rise.”—John 11:21-23.
19 Martha thought that Jesus was talking about the future resurrection, so she replied: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) Her faith in that teaching was remarkable. Some Jewish religious leaders, called Sadducees, denied that there would be a resurrection, though it was a clear teaching in the inspired Scriptures. (Dan. 12:13; Mark 12:18) Martha knew, however, that Jesus taught the resurrection hope and had even performed resurrections—although not of anyone who had been dead as long as Lazarus had. She did not know what lay ahead.
20. Explain the meaning of Jesus’ unforgettable statement recorded at John 11:25-27 and of Martha’s reply.
20 Jesus then made an unforgettable statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Indeed, Jehovah God has given his Son the authority to perform resurrections on a global scale in the future. Jesus asked Martha: “Do you believe this?” Then she gave the answer discussed at the outset of this chapter. She had faith that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, that he was the Son of Jehovah God, and that he was the one whom the prophets had foretold would come into the world.—John 5:28, 29; read John 11:25-27.
21, 22. (a) How did Jesus reveal his feelings for those who mourn? (b) Describe the resurrection of Lazarus.
21 Do Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ, value faith like that of Martha? The events that next unfolded before Martha’s eyes provide the clearest of answers. She hurried to get her sister. Thereafter, she saw that Jesus was deeply moved as he talked to Mary and the many mourners with her. She saw the tears come to his eyes as he freely showed his deep grief over the pain that death causes. She heard Jesus order that the stone be rolled away from her brother’s tomb.—John 11:28-39.
22 Ever practical, Martha objected that the body would smell by now, four days after death. Jesus reminded her: “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” She did believe, and she did see the glory of Jehovah God. Right then and there, he empowered his Son to bring Lazarus back to life! Think of the moments that must have been etched in Martha’s memory to the end of her days: Jesus’ commanding call, “Lazarus, come on out!”; the faint noise from the cave where Lazarus was entombed as the man rose and, still bound in the bandages used to prepare the body, inched his way to the door of the cave; Jesus’ command to “loose him and let him go”; and, to be sure, the ecstatic embrace as Martha and Mary flew into their brother’s arms. (Read John 11:40-44.) The burden on Martha’s heart was lifted!
23. What do Jehovah and Jesus want to do for you, and what do you need to do?
23 This account shows that the resurrection of the dead is not mere wishful thinking; it is a heartwarming Bible teaching and a proven historical reality. (Job 14:14, 15) Jehovah and his Son love to reward faith, as they did in the case of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They have such rewards in store for you too if you build strong faith.
“Martha Was Ministering”
24. The Bible record gives us what last glimpse of Martha?
24 The Bible record mentions Martha just one more time. It was at the outset of the final week of Jesus’ life on earth. Knowing well what hardships lay ahead of him, Jesus again chose that haven at Bethany as his residence. From there he would walk the two miles (3 km) to Jerusalem. Jesus and Lazarus were dining at the home of Simon the leper, and there we get this last glimpse of our subject: “Martha was ministering.”—John 12:2.
25. Why are congregations today blessed to have women like Martha?
25 How typical of that industrious woman! When we first come upon her in the Bible, she is working; when we leave her, she is still working, doing her best to care for the needs of those around her. Congregations of Christ’s followers today are blessed to have women like Martha—stouthearted and generous, always putting their faith into action by giving of themselves. Did Martha keep doing just that? It seems likely. If so, she acted wisely, for she had yet to meet her share of obstacles.
26. What did Martha’s faith help her to do?
26 Within days, Martha had to endure the terrible death of her beloved Master, Jesus. Further, the same murderous hypocrites who killed him were determined to kill Lazarus as well, since his resurrection was boosting the faith of so many. (Read John 12:9-11.) And, of course, death did eventually sever the loving bonds that joined Martha to her siblings. We do not know how or when that happened, but we may be fairly sure of this: Martha’s precious faith helped her endure to the end. That is why Christians today do well to imitate the faith of Martha.
In first-century Jewish society, women were generally excluded from academic activities. Their training tended to focus on duties in the home. Martha may thus have seen it as highly unusual for a woman to sit at the feet of a scholar to learn.