The Bible is written so that we keep our eyes on Jesus. And yet, as we walk our way through, there are some human heroes, too. They capture our attention and model for us how to follow God. Or not.
One of those intriguing characters is Martha. In the Gospels, she gets a bad rap for serving, while her sister is sitting. Since that sitting was done in the presence of Jesus, it is commended by Him. But there is so much more to her. Let me summarize the thoughts of Ed Welch.
Here she is coming out to meet Jesus after the death of her brother Lazarus. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:20–27)
Wow, Mary is seated again. Martha is not. Later in the same narrative, Martha is at the tomb. She wanted it to remain sealed. The stench would be bad. But what is most amazing is Martha’s bold statement. She knows — and so she says — that Jesus is able to raise her brother right then. Martha shines in this conversation. She is our imperfect heroine, whose faith we want to imitate.
Of all of Jesus’ “I am” disclosures, “I am the resurrection and life” is the one on which all other statements depend. If death is not defeated, Jesus-as-good-shepherd will be with us only until we die. If death is not defeated, Satan is not defeated. The revelation of Jesus to Martha was intimate and glorious. In response, as a woman who represents all those who would ever follow Jesus, she says it clearly: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
The end of the gospel of John gives his purpose in writing. “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Martha is the first and only person in his gospel who has these words on her lips. Listen to her. Speak what she speaks. We must all speak what she speaks.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Martha. Her place in Scripture is more complex than we see at first glance. Besides, we all need to follow her example: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”