Martha: Older Sister of Lazarus


Many older brothers and sisters have an irritating tendency to take charge, a habit developed while growing up. We can easily see this pattern in Martha, the older sisters of Mary and Lazarus. She was used to being in control.

The fact that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are remembered for their hospitality takes on added significance when we note that hospitality was a social requirement in their culture. It was considered shameful to turn anyone away from your door. Apparently Martha’s family me this requirement very well.

Martha worried about details. She wished to please, to serve, to do the right thing – but she often succeeded in making everyone around her uncomfortable. Perhaps as the oldest, she feared shame if her home did not measure up to expectations. She tried to do everything she could to make sure that wouldn’t happen. As a result, she found it hard to relax and enjoy her guests, and even harder to accept Mary’s lack of cooperation in all the preparations. Martha’s frustration was so intense that she finally asked Jesus to settle the matter. He gently corrected her attitude and showed her that her priorities, though good, were not the best. The personal attention she gave her guests should be more important than the comforts she tried to provide for them.

Later, following her brother Lazarus’s death, she rushed out to meet him and expressed her inner conflict of disappointment and hope. Jesus pointed out that her hope was too limited. He was not only Lord beyond death, but he was also Lord over death – the resurrection and the life! Moments later, Martha again spoke without thinking, pointing out that four-day-old corpses are well on their way to decomposition. Her awareness of details sometimes kept her from seeing the whole picture, but Jesus was consistently patient with her.

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In our last picture of Martha, she is once again serving a meal to Jesus and his disciples. She has not stopped serving. But the Bible records her silence this time. She has begun to learn what her younger sister already knew – that worship begins with silence and listening.

Strengths and Accomplishments

  • Know as a hospitable homemaker
  • Believed in Jesus with growing faith
  • Had a strong desire to do everything exactly right

Weaknesses and Mistakes

  • Expected others to agree with her priorities
  • Was overly concerned with details
  • Tended to feel sorry for herself when her efforts were not recognized
  • Limited Jesus’ power to this life

Lessons From Her Life

  • Getting caught up in details can make us forget the main reasons for our actions
  • There is a proper time to listen to Jesus and a proper time to work for him

Vital Statistics for Martha

  • Where: Bethany
  • Relatives: Sister: Mary. Brother: Lazarus

Key Verse for Martha

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ “ (Luke 10:40)

Martha’s story is told in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:17-45.

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