03 March 2010

Martha Re-Examined

If you've been a Christian for a while, you likely know what the "Martha Syndrome" is. Succinctly, it's falling into the trap of worry and distractions which steal from recognizing God and giving Him due place in life.
I'd like to re-examine Martha later in the gospels - in John 11- because if we examine her here, I wonder if Martha made more progress towards faith than is normally assigned to her. Look at her encounter with Jesus after Lazarus died in John 11, beginning at verse 1:
John 11:1-44
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." ... On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

It seems outstanding that Martha responds not only to Jesus' question of her understanding of his mission, but that she connects his mission with his being.
By contrast, look at other places where Jesus is affirmed as the Son of God-pay attention to the circumstance surrounding the affirmations:

John 1:32-34 - John saw the sign of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' baptism and he declared: "Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."
Matt 14:25-33 - when Peter walked on the water, the disciples were afraid and thought he was a ghost. And, the worshipped him.
14:28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matt 14:8-33)
John 1:47-50 - Nathanael - "When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that."
John 20:30-32 - The end of the book of John-a summary of the purpose of the gospel of John. "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

In John 11 we read that Martha believed 1) Jesus was the Life, 2) Jesus was the Son of God.
In the passages listed right above, of all the people who were recorded as stating Jesus is the "Son of God, " Martha is the only one who stated this without having seen a 'sign' or miraculous event.
I causes me to at least wonder why it is that Martha undestood who Christ was without the benefit of a miraculous event. ? In this respect she is similar to those believers of whom Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who believe but have not seen." In this respect, Martha is the anti-thesis to (doubting but honest) Thomas.
It seems that faith, that attribute so highly esteemed in the Bible, was hers. No, she was  not perfect (as we can see from the previous mention of her in Luke and from the rest of this chapter)-but she was believing. "Be not weak in faith, but be strong in believing."
So I wonder from the passage in John 11 and because Martha, Mary and Lazarus were called  "loved of Jesus," if we are misinterpreting her progress from being a distracted person to a strong disciple? I wonder if  she merits a different reputation.
Goodness, we all know disciples is not always right. But we also know that progress in faith makes for growth as a disciple.