John 11, part 2 (winter, AD 29)
A few months earlier Jesus was at the house of Mary and Martha. Mary was at Jesus’ feet, lapping up everything he was saying, leaving chores and practical hospitality aside for a while. Martha complained to Jesus about it, and was given a gentle but firm rebuttal:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Judging by the incident in our reading today, those chastening words of Jesus seem to have had a major impact on Martha. She displayed something close to a unique level of acceptance and awareness of the nature of Jesus’ identity in v.24-27:
“I know [my brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
It was quite a turnaround for Martha, and a sad indictment of all the religious leaders, and to an extent even the disciples. None of them by this point seemed to understand Jesus like Martha did, even with so much less access to learning. Even Peter’s Messianic confession of Mark 8:29 didn’t seem to stick, or meant far less in Peter’s mind than it should have done.
She listened to what Jesus said, she saw the evidence of his life, she knew her Scripture…and therefore she recognised Jesus for who he really was. It’s not complicated, but it does require a willingness to have been proved wrong, a desire to learn, and humility.
And God shows us those qualities as standing out in the life of a woman, at a time when women were regarded by many as being less knowledgeable and less reliable than men. More was to come in God’s overturning of misogynistic prejudice when he chose women to be the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection
Martha’s awareness of Jesus’ identity was then reflected in her humble response when Jesus delayed his coming after hearing of Lazarus’s grave illness. While Mary and Martha both pointed out that Jesus could have prevented the death by coming earlier, Martha followed that up by saying, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (v.22). Grieved as she was, she knew that Jesus had the authority to wield the power of God over death itself.
Lazarus’ resurrection, although joyous, would not have been altogether a surprise for Martha. Her prayer was answered, her faith rewarded. This is a remarkable turnaround in Martha’s attitude to and relationship with Jesus, now appearing more enlightened than Mary.
Do you allow God to speak humbling truths like that into your heart, like Martha did? Do you learn from them and grow closer to God as a result? Does God pointing out the sin in your life result in your reaching more for your heavenly Father as you grieve an attitude that has been keeping you from him?
Because when you do, your greater knowledge and faith will be rewarded with a greater joy of knowing who he really is, and what that means for you and all humanity.