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MARY AND MARTHA
-Elite Sister Disciples-
MARTHA is the sister of MARY and Lazarus of Bethany, who were three of Jesus' best-loved disciples. At the time of Jesus, the peaceful village of Bethany, located on the Mt. of Olives' eastern slope, situated about two miles south-east of Jerusalem, with the road between providing a ready avenue for travel, the journey taking about fifty-five minutes to walk. The town was known primarily as the home of disciples Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
Ancient Bethany occupied an important place in the life of Jesus. Jesus often found Himself staying in Bethany at the home of His closest friends when He ministered in Jerusalem. The three were part of an inner circle of Jesus' colleagues. The Gospel emphasises their select status.
Jesus extended to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, His friendship. Simon, the leper is identified as the father of the three friends of Jesus. Jesus may have healed Simon or he may have been dead. Martha was the head of this small family, who were financially well provided for and blessed by God.
Martha was hospitable and lovingly opened her home to others for she considered it an honour to please guests. Mary, was a dedicated disciple of Christ and is an example for all others. She was the disciple who sat at the feet of Jesus wanting spiritual truth and understanding.
Martha, being the eldest of her siblings, was accustomed to being in control of her younger siblings. She had a gift for the reception of guests or strangers with liberality and kindness, greatly enjoying this position. Martha's hospitality was a social requirement in the Jewish culture at the time of Jesus. It was considered shameful to turn anyone away. However, Martha worried about details, but at the same time she wished to please and make others around her feel uncomfortable. She found it hard to accept Mary's lack of co-operation in house hold preparations.
An incident that helps establish priorities happened in the home of Martha, at Bethany, her younger sister, Mary, sat at Jesus' feet and listened to His teaching. Martha wanted to provide an elaborate meal for Jesus and complained that her younger sister was not helping her and asked Jesus to intervene. Jesus tenderly explained to Martha, that Mary had chosen to learn from Him, which was the more important choice at that time. Jesus affirmed Mary in a discipleship role, with equality.
Martha was intense and faced the Lord's kindly firmness. When Martha became irritated with her younger sister Mary, it led to a confrontation with Jesus, for she inadvertently blamed Him for Mary's lack of assistance to her meal preparations. Jesus' response was to ask Martha to reconsider her priorities and make choices of eternal value instead of immediate pressures and also suggested that she allow Mary to make her own choice of her priorities. Jesus taught her that it is more important to be with guests than what she could do for them.
Martha was a person in charge, she welcomed Jesus as a guest in her home and was concerned with meeting the obligations of a hostess, whether preparing food or greeting guests. Martha's activist discipleship is a contrast with Mary's contemplative discipleship. The church cannot minister without 'Marthas' who are willing to serve. Jesus' gentle rebuke serves as a perpetual reminder not to major on minor matters. Jesus must not be neglected in the name of service.
Martha learnt what her younger sister learned from Jesus, that worship begins with silence and listening, that there is a proper time to listen to Jesus and another to work in His service. Martha was a dear friend of Jesus, she was a worrier, and the nervous 'jittery type'.
Martha and Mary both loved Jesus, but Martha implied that her sister's style of serving was inferior to hers, she didn't realise that in her desire to serve Him that she actually neglected Him.
For Mary, hospitality meant giving more to guests and was content to let her elder sister take care of preparation duties. She did little in preparation but a lot in participation. Mary was a responder. When Jesus visited she simply sat at His feet and listened. Jesus stated that Mary's choice to enjoy His company was the most appropriate response.
Some months later, when Jesus was travelling in the region of Perea, Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus, their brother, Lazarus and much loved friend of Jesus, was very ill. Jesus waited two days before travelling to Bethany to Martha's house, for He knew that Lazarus had died.
Jesus returned to Bethany four days after the burial of Lazarus. When Jesus did arrive, Martha took the initiative to go and greet Jesus as He approached the town. She told Jesus her brother had already died , and had already been buried four days and both sisters attributed his untimely death to Jesus' delay. Jesus asked to see Mary, she went quickly to Him and fell at His feet.
After spending time with Martha and Mary individually, Jesus' love for Lazarus and His family became evident. God was to be greatly glorified because of His action taken. Martha believed and confessed a remarkable truth to Jesus. He comforted the two sisters and they both affirmed their faith in Jesus, but did not grasp what He was going to do. Jewish Teachers and Leaders were there and told Jesus where Lazarus was buried. They also saw the tears that came to His eyes. Jesus was moved deeply with anger, it was death itself that was the object of His controlled anger. Jesus ordered the stone blocking the tomb to be removed, to the people's dismay.
Faced with the realities of death, Martha played a primary role in the episode of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead. After the death of her brother, she had inward conflicting emotions of disappointment and hope. Jesus encouraged her not to limit hope. Martha acknowledged Jesus had the power over death and believed in her brother's future bodily resurrection, but Jesus told her to believe and see the glory of God. Jesus prayed aloud for all to hear and called to Lazarus and in a public display of power he became alive, raised literally from the dead for all to see.
Martha saw her four-day old dead brother's body on its
way to decomposition be filled with life through divine power. This magnificent
miracle by Jesus demonstrated His authority.
"I am the One who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in Me, even though He dies, like anyone else, shall live again. He is given ETERNAL LIFE for believing in Me and shall never perish".
Many of the Jewish Leaders who saw this happen finally believed in Jesus and who He is. Some reported it to the Chief Priests in Jerusalem, and the High Priest pronounced that Jesus had to be killed and taken out of the way, for they feared another political uprising, and were concerned selfishly, about their own positions.
Another significant event in Jesus' life occurred in Bethany at their home. Jesus arrived at Bethany six days before His death and the Passover Celebrations and stayed His final week with Martha, Mary and their brother and friend of Jesus, Lazarus, the man whom Jesus had recently brought back to LIFE. When the local people of Jerusalem heard of Jesus' arrival, they flocked to see Him. The Chief priests wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus, for many Jewish Teachers had deserted them and believed in Jesus, for they knew that Jesus brought Lazarus back to LIFE to the Glory of God. The people of Bethany wished Him to be their honoured guest at a banquet, obviously celebrated with the resurrected Lazarus.
Martha prepared and served the meal in His honour. Mary washed Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair, in the sight of all, bought a costly alabaster vial of expensive perfume and emptied its contents upon Jesus' head and feet. She seemed to understand better than the other disciples that He was going to die. Mary anointed Jesus with costly perfume, an ointment that cost 300 denarii. A worker's wage per day was 1 denarias, the equivalent to a man's yearly salary. This was an act of worship which she in humility anointed her Saviour.
The anointing of the head of an honoured guest with olive oil was a very common custom. The anointing with perfumed ointment of Jesus' feet was an unusual act for someone to perform other than a house-hold servant. The fragrance filled the room. This was an act of humility and expressed Mary's willingness to serve Him. The jar of costly perfume was made from the essence of spikenard which was used also in some cases to anoint royalty.
All the disciples were indignant, that the gesture was a wasted expense and disagreed with what she had done. Jesus spoke out that this act was done in preparation for His burial, and made the proclamation that Mary's act of worship would be told every where that the gospel was preached, as an example of costly self-commitment.
Although wealth can be used for certain practices, the needs of the poor are still to be met. Jesus commended Mary because of her special sacrifice she had made for Him. Jesus brought attention to her actions that were consistent with her words. It was a unique act for a special occasion, thus serving an important confessional function of anticipating Jesus' death. Jesus acknowledged the anointing of the perfume by Mary of Bethany as an anticipation of his death and well acquainted with His ultimate destiny. Mary gave a treasured possession, the expense is symbolic of the worth and value of Jesus' death, as was his birth with the gifts given by the wise men.
Spikenard is known to be a root of a native plant in India. It was pure, unadulterated, in its genuine form. Lavish spices and perfumes were spent on a body to disguise the smell. Large sums of money were spent on funerals.
The alabaster flask, a long necked bottle, was made out of a special variety of marble. Spikenard was very scarce, it was transported from the Himalayas to Palestine by camel.
Usually a woman would never let her down her hair in public, and always kept it firmly bound or braided.
Anointing was the first stage of embalming, whether Mary knew it or not, she was anointing Jesus' body, preparing it for burial. The household was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Jesus taught people to give freely. No one can read the heart of the giver, the motive is known only by God.
To Mary Jesus had introduced the Scriptures and openly showed respect for her. She lived in the fellowship of Jesus and hungered for His truths. Mary was a women characterised by spiritual insight and readiness. Christ commended her on her discipleship more than once.
Martha's personality was active and outgoing. Jesus helped Mary grow into a person with spiritual insight. He helped her understand the deeper things of God's Word.
It is important that service does not become self-serving and to know whom is being served. Hospitality is an art, a God-given talent that requires making sure guests are to feel welcomed and well fed. this is done by creativity and organisation.
Martha was a disciple who experienced God's power in practical service. Jesus as well as many others, needed the benefits of physical refreshment of Martha's caring hospitality. She did not consider her homemaking responses as worthless but counted it joy to manage an efficient household. Both Martha and Mary are a reminder to all women to balance fellowship with others and necessary work.
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