When the two sisters Mary and Martha are spoken about in a church context it’s often in relation to the well known story from Luke 10, where Jesus stays at the sisters’ home, Mary sits at his feet to listen, and Martha is portrayed as the busy-body distracted with the preparations who’s missing out on Jesus’ teaching.
There’s less emphasis put on John 11, where during the story of the resurrection of Lazarus (their brother) the sisters’ reactions to Jesus are looked at, but this time, Martha seems to get it. In a short exchange, Jesus says to Martha, “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?” (vv 25-26), to which Martha replies, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come in the world.” (v 27).
I’m no New Testament scholar, but having read some of what N T Wright (who is definitely a New Testament scholar) has to say about Jewish beliefs in the resurrection and the potential deity of Jesus at the time, it’s pretty clear the the belief Martha is confessing here is profound, and, in the context of the time, dangerous. She is recognising that Jesus is the Jewish messiah, something the Romans wouldn’t be too happy about, but more than that, she is recognising Jesus’ connection with God, which the Jewish leaders wouldn’t be too happy about.
Furthermore, she is able to make this heavy statement in what must be one of the most difficult periods of her life; her brother has just died and it seems that Jesus, the one man who could have saved him, was not there in time to make a difference. In a way, she has every right to feel hurt and let down, and some of this comes out in verse 21, but then straight away from the next verse (22) she puts her trust once more in this man from Nazareth.
Why would she do that? Because she got it. Although she was busy in the Luke 10 story it’s clear from this that she must have heard a great deal of teaching and she responded in such a way that her life and worldview were completely changed. She was able to consider the dead body of her brother and say, in effect, ‘even though it is impossible for him to be alive again, I know that it is possible for You, because You’re God’.
Like so many passages in the Bible, Martha’s example here can be both a challenge and an encouragement. The challenge is for us to have that level of belief, and let’s face it, in the UK we’re not being persecuted for our beliefs in the way that Christians were then or are now being persecuted in the Middle East. The encouragement is that that kind of faith isn’t beyond us, and that Jesus can and will respond to it just as He did then, when He raised Lazarus from the dead.
So rather than remembering Martha as the sister who was too busy to listen to Jesus, why not remember her as one of the first people to listen to Jesus and get what he was all about?