Two Sisters and A Dead Man

I was asked recently to speak at a women’s conference at Simsboro Baptist Church in Louisiana. The topic I was given was “The Women in Jesus’ Life”. At first, I really didn’t know what to do with it. There’s just not a whole lot of details about any of the women Jesus encountered, whether they were family, friends or strangers.

So, I prayed.

A lot.

And the one thing that kept coming back over and over was the word “Faith”. As I read about the different women Jesus encountered I realized that was the thing they had in common. So, the topic of the conference changed from “The Women in Jesus’ Life” to “The Faith of the Women in Jesus’ life”.

I though I’d share what I learned during the process of studying and writing on this subject. It’s pretty long, so I’ll break it down into three different posts. Today is about Martha and Mary.

In John 10 Jesus is teaching in Jerusalem that he and God the Father are one. Folks really didn’t like hearing this so they tried to stone him, and as a result Jesus promptly left the region with his disciples.

Now, I could spend a few paragraphs recapping what happened, but frankly, I just don’t want to. It’s too much typing. Also, as a way to encourage you to pick up a Bible or open up an app on your phone or google “Bible” I’ll take a short break so you can read it yourself. Find John 11. Read through verse 44.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o. B-I-N-G-O. B-I-N-G-O. B-I-N-G-O. And Bingo was his name-o.



When Martha’s note reaches him, Jesus would have had a several day journey to get back to Judea. In fact, when Jesus arrived in Bethany Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. What Jesus encountered upon his arrival was a limited faith, both from Martha and Mary. In verses 21 and 32 Martha and Mary address him the same way. Not with, “Thank you for coming” or “I’m so glad to see you” but with blame, accusation, and with what we we discover is a limited faith. They both say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha goes on as if to downplay the accusation by saying, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Their first reaction is to blame Jesus, the one they KNOW could have saved Lazarus if he had chosen to do so. But aren’t we so much like them? We blame the one who could save. We blame the one who could heal. We blame the one who can do anything he so chooses to do. Why? Why did they and we do that?

I think it is human nature to need someone to blame when things go wrong. Sometimes that person is ourselves, but more times than not it is someone else. It has to be someone’s fault after all, doesn’t it? Why else would it happen?  Someone had to cause it. I don’t know about you, but I tend to blame those closest to me, which usually means my husband. When it is something big, we tend to blame God. Maybe blame is too harsh a word though. Maybe it’s just that we accuse God of NOT acting when He could have. That’s what Martha and Mary did. They blamed Jesus for NOT acting when he could have. You might be asking, “But they believed he could have saved Lazarus if only he had come sooner, right?” The answer is yes. But they failed to believe that Jesus could have saved him from the other side of Judea and that he could save him even from death itself. They didn’t yet understand that Jesus was the savior of death itself. This is limited faith.

Limited faith is controlled by circumstances, and motivated by fear. Martha and Mary were controlled by their circumstance, which was the death of their brother. Their grief, their pain, their suffering had allowed them to forget what they knew to be true. They were lost in the grief they were experiencing. How many times do we allow our circumstances to control our actions, our reactions, our words? We listen to feelings and what is going on around us even though those things will lie to us. Our feelings or emotions are not trustworthy. That’s why when I was in high school telling my youth minister how much I loved this guy I was dating he looked at me and said, “Your emotions cannot always be trusted. You have to think.” He was right. A couple of months later I no longer “loved” that boyfriend and we broke up in the hallway of our high school. My anger will tell me to yell at Paul – to lash out and hurt him – and I could listen to it and have on occasion, but where does it get me? No where good is where it gets me. So we have these two sisters, going through a terrible ordeal, and they lash out at the one person who loves them more than they know. Instead of holding fast to truth, they give in to their emotions and look for someone to blame. A firm faith is complete obedience to the Word of God disregarding circumstance or consequences. It is trusting when it is difficult, when the world says to turn away. A firm faith is just that…firm in the face of every obstacle.

Let’s go back to Jesus and Martha. Have you ever just gone off on a tirade and the person on the other end of it tried to comfort you after it was all said and done?  I wonder if in verse 23 when Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again” he was trying to comfort her? They begin a discourse about resurrection, in which Jesus reveals he is the resurrection and the life. Martha doesn’t say she believes that whoever believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live. She believes that Jesus is was the Christ, the Son of God. Her faith was rightly placed in that she believed Jesus was the Son of God but it was limited in what he could do.

We see this again after the group reach the tomb of Lazarus in verse 38. Jesus instructs the stone laying against the tomb to be moved. Martha responds, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Other versions say, “Lord by this time he stinketh” It makes me laugh every time I see it written that way for some reason.                                                 At this point Jesus chastises her just a little bit. He says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” You can almost see Martha cringing because he’s correcting her in front of a lot of people. In a matter of what was probably minutes she had forgotten what Jesus had told her.

When things get tough, we forget lessons we just learned, things Jesus taught us, scripture we just read that morning. I think one of the life lessons I am trying to learn is to call on Him first. My tendency is to call a friend or wait on pins and needles for a chance to talk to Paul about it. I will go over names in my head until I think I have found the right person to talk to about whatever is going on at the time. Afterwards, I almost always ask myself, “Why didn’t you just stop and spend some time with Jesus and talk to him about it?” Ultimately, I know that’s where I am going to end up anyway, so why not start there – with the one who actually has a solution instead of just sympathy? And this is my lesson that I forget over and over, just as Martha had just heard Jesus tell her that Lazarus would not remain dead and in the matter of a few minutes had forgotten.

Here’s it all in a nutshell. How I react during difficult times will reveal what I believe about God. I had to ask myself if, during difficult times, does my faith waver or is it steadfast?

Tomorrow, I’ll post what I learned about the second woman I studied.

2 thoughts on “Two Sisters and A Dead Man

  1. I love this passage, not because of how similar Martha and Mary’s responses are, but how different.

    They do say exactly the same words, but we’re missing 90%+ of the communication medium. Sometimes we have to look around for clues on what’s really happening. Here, we find the clues in previous passages that tell us something about the two’s respective personalities (Martha is a doer, Mary a take-it-all-in-er), and more importantly, Jesus’ response to each of them.

    Martha’s tone was probably, as you said, accusatory (although she tries to soften it at the end). Jesus responds with reason. They engage in conversation, but she’s not really hearing what He’s saying, and ultimately she gives up and leaves, I imagine frustrated.

    Mary comes in and says the exact same words, but Jesus’ response is quite different. He looks at her, at the others around her, and … He weeps. He has no reason to do so — He knows Lazarus will walk out of the tomb in a few minutes. He’s not weeping because of Lazarus, He’s weeping because of Mary, because of her hurt. That probably tells us that Mary’s words were not an accusation. Instead, I imagine they were an acknowledgment, a simple statement that she understood that He had the power over life and death. In short, I believe she understood what Martha did not, even after Martha’s conversation with Jesus.

    Great post, as always. We were supposed to talk earlier this week and haven’t (my fault). We’ll fix that in the next day or two.

  2. Well, sir, I reckon I have to agree. It’s something I really didn’t focus on, but should have. Thanks for sharing it. I always appreciate your insights. Love you.

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