Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a supper for Him there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. (John 12:1-2)
The anointing at Bethany. If I mentioned this event to you, you’d instantly recall the moment Mary took the fragrant oil, poured it over Jesus’ feet, and then wiped his feet with her hair. It was a beautiful moment of submission, humility, and service. And when Judas complained about the “waste” of such an expensive perfume, Jesus rebuked Judas while praising and verbally honoring Mary.
Yet as I read this passage in John the other day, my eyes were drawn to another act of submission, humility, and service I’ve always overlooked. It is an outward expression of an inward transformation; and it’s found in three words: “Martha was serving.”
Martha was serving… what a testimony to what God can do! In the many times I’ve read this passage, I’ve missed the significance of the clause “Martha was serving.”
Do you get the significance? To fully understand it, we must look back to the first time Mary and Martha were mentioned. Read it with me:
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. ‘”(Luke 10:38-42)
The situations appear quite similar. Jesus is visiting; Martha and Mary are hosting. Mary is at the feet of Jesus; Martha is busy getting things ready.
Yet there’s a big difference between the two passages; it is found in the hearts of the two women. Mary from the beginning loved to be at Jesus’ feet. She wasn’t distracted; she was focused. Serving didn’t distract her in the beginning, and the cost of the perfume didn’t distract her near the end. Even after the death of Lazarus, Mary didn’t leave the home; nothing could distract her from mourning for her brother–until, of course, Jesus came back. And then she ran to Him and again fell at His feet.
Martha, on the other hand, began her journey with Jesus distracted. She may have been called to serve–she may have been a doer by nature–but she allowed the actual call of God to get her eyes off God. It is why she initially complained to Jesus. She was “distracted by much serving” and “anxious and troubled about many things.” Yet I do not believe serving was ever Martha’s problem; we need to serve. I believe being distracted by the serving was her problem.
Think about it. When we are distracted by something, our focus has been redirected from what it should be to something less relevant or completely unrelated. In the case of Martha, Martha was distracted by her serving. She was focused on the service, the busyness, and making sure everything was okay; she was not focused on her Savior.
In the beginning, Martha missed the point of serving; she was distracted by it.
Yet then we fast forward to the book of John. By this time, Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. He has demonstrated His power and love and faithfulness time and time again. Both Mary and Martha now trust Him wholeheartedly. And this change of heart becomes apparent when Jesus again visits Mary and Martha. Mary does what Mary is called to do: she places herself at the feet of Jesus and proceeds to anoint Him.
But Martha? How does she demonstrate her love of Jesus? Does she also sit at Jesus’ feet? No. That’s Mary’s calling–not Martha’s. Martha serves.
Martha didn’t give up serving when she met Jesus; she just ceased being distracted by it. She no longer complained. She no longer stormed about all huffy. She just served. She simply served her Savior.
That, my friend, is powerful to me. Martha did not quit doing what she was called to do; she just began doing it with the right heart. God had transformed Martha from an anxious, busy, distracted doer to a focused, devoted, servant of our Savior.
And if He can change Martha, He can change anyone.
So what has God called you to do? Are you a writer? A teacher? An encourager? A musician? Whatever it is God has called you to and equipped you for, I encourage you to walk in it. However, do not be like the Martha who was distracted by her service; rather, be like the Martha who just served. Be like the Martha who humbly walked out her calling with her eyes firmly fixed on her Savior. Keep pressing on in what God has called you to do. Don’t allow the things of the world or the calling itself to distract you from the plan God has for you. Be like the Mary and Martha of the book of John. Serve your Savior in whatever capacity He has called you. Whether that is sitting at His feet or serving in the kitchen, you can be sure God sees you–and He sees your heart. And whatever God sees in secret, He will surely reward in the open–if not in this age, then definitely in the one to come.