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Better than Busyness and Blessing

“Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house” (MSG, John 12: 1-3). 

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram, swiping through stories longer than I would like to admit until one stopped me. It was a dear friend of mine’s repost of this quote: “Let’s be like Mary in a Martha world.” As it made me pause that day, it also has stuck with me weeks later. Here’s why…

I adore the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, three siblings who loved Jesus and walked alongside Him during His time on Earth. John 11:5 tells us that Jesus loved these three. Something about their story just feels relatable. You can sense the family bonds between the siblings and picture their shared faith in the living and breathing Lord. This faith is especially shown when Martha and Mary send to Jesus for rescue when their brother Lazarus is dying, described in John 11. When Jesus arrived to Bethany where they were, Lazarus had been dead for four days, yet Jesus says that his death is nothing more than him taking a nap, that his death was instead going to be a sign of God’s glory and grounds for others’ belief in Jesus. All of which came true as Jesus commanded life in Lazarus’ embalmed body, and many Jews began to believe in Jesus “on account of [Lazarus]” when they saw him alive again (MSG, John 12:11). The miracle of Lazarus’ new life forms an integral piece of context for Martha’s and Mary’s relationship to Jesus.

For most of my life, I have been like Martha to my core. As a type-A, perfectionist, overachieving-leaning gal, Martha spoke my language. In Luke 10, it says that “Martha welcomed [Jesus] and made him feel quite at home” (MSG). However, it also accounts shortly after that she was “pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen” (MSG). In this, we find the beauty and downfall of Martha’s nature, beautiful in her love for Christ but led astray by her attempt to make everything perfect for Him. In how she welcomed and made him feel at home, we see her adoration, yet in her busybody hustle, we see her prioritizing perfection for the Lord over presence with him. On the other hand, Luke 10 notes that Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, “hanging on every word he said” (MSG). When Martha approached Jesus and Mary with the complaint that Mary left her to do all the work alone, Jesus simply stated, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her” (MSG). Jesus did not harshly condemn Martha for her hustle bustle; instead, He lovingly called her “dear” before reminding her that only one thing, Himself, is essential. For someone with a Martha default, I cannot praise Jesus enough for his response to Martha; He sees her in her desire for perfection and preparation, even for something as worthy as a meal with the Lord himself, but He loves her too much to leave her satisfied with anxiously fulfilling that desire. He instead points her heart to Himself, the “one thing” above all others, with the promise that He will not be taken from her when she prioritizes simply being with Him in the way Mary does. 

I wrote a blog four years ago about Martha and Mary, yet at that point in my life, I still understood Martha far more than I empathized with Mary. By God’s grace, it makes me teary eyed writing this as I now better understand and admire the heart of Mary, even if by a sliver more. Shown beautifully in John 12:1-3, written at the top of this blog, Mary sat worshipping at Jesus’ feet in the same room where Martha worked and Lazarus breathed. In this room, Mary had every temptation to be consumed by “a Martha world,” like the Instagram post stated. With the hustle-bustle of Martha, she had every reason to feel pressure to work and busy herself with preparing for Jesus, instead of simply being with him. As for Lazarus’ presence in the room, Mary had already witnessed Jesus raising her brother four days dead back to life, arguably the greatest miracle Jesus had completed yet. Therefore, she had every reason to be fully content with Jesus. If you are anything like me, it is easy to slip into a mindset that we don’t need Jesus when we are in a season that has already been abundantly blessed by him. In the extra sweet times, it is easy to become complacent in faith, despite the truth that blessed seasons should point us to the Cross even more. This is why Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet in the presence of not only Martha but especially Lazarus is so awe-inspiring to me today. Instead of being complacent or even content with the extreme blessing Jesus had already worked in her life, she sat at the feet of the person that she knew nothing could compare to, that no amount of busyness or blessing could add to. She sat at His feet, praising Him and prioritizing Him alone, pouring oil on his feet and then wiping them with her hair. And the best part of this? Her praise didn’t just stay at His feet; it permeated the air of the room, and then the whole house: “The fragrance of the oils filled the house” (MSG, John 12:3). Her worship moved through the busyness of Martha and the blessing of Lazarus. 

Therefore, my take on the Instagram post is now this: How can we be like Mary in the presence of Martha and Lazarus? The promise that Mary reveals is two-fold. In Luke 10, we see Jesus’ promise that when we praise the “one essential thing” like she does, He will never be taken from us. In John 12, however, we also see that when we sit at His feet, the fragrance of our praise doesn’t just stay there with our presence. It fills the room; it is a light to those caught up in the hustle of a Martha world and a reminder to those abundantly blessed like Lazarus that no blessing, no matter how life-giving, can compare to the grandeur of God. My prayer is that our worship would be a sweet fragrance to those around us in these sacred days leading to the celebration of Jesus’ arrival; our world might just need it now more than ever. 

With love, C

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