The story of Mary and Martha, two of Jesus’ closest friends, is a familiar one to many, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll give you a brief recap, based on what’s stated in Luke 10:38-42.

Mary and Martha were from the town of Bethany, where they lived with their brother, Lazarus, who Jesus also knew. He loved all three of them. So, when Jesus and His disciples came to visit the household during His ministry, Martha wanted to make sure that her guests – including the Son of God Himself – were happy and well taken care of. Meanwhile, Mary was amongst the guests, seated at Jesus’ feet as He taught them. When Martha chastises Mary for what seemed to her to be inaction by asking Jesus to tell her to help her, Jesus first tells her not to worry so much, and He also tells her that Mary is not only fine where she is, but that it won’t be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).

But the story doesn’t stop with this instance of this family hosting Jesus in their home. They host Jesus again (John 12:1-8), but before that, they call for Him when their brother is sick, and again when he dies. And when Lazarus dies, Jesus helps the two sisters through it, even though He will resurrect their brother in what seems like mere minutes or hours. Both sisters have unique reactions to their brother’s death – one keeps her composure, the other pours out her heart.

So, why are we talking about Mary and Martha today? Lots of times, it’s easy to put oneself in a category or a “box.” For example, some people consider themselves more like Martha; others, more like Mary. They associate with one sister or the other. However, it’s entirely possible to share similar qualities of both sisters. Their characteristics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, both sisters have qualities that we as Christians can aspire to today.

How can we be like both Martha and Mary?

Know when it’s time to serve

Martha didn’t ask when it would be appropriate to serve others. She just did. In fact, she served Jesus and His disciples besides the one instance where she shared that one conversation we’re familiar with. In fact, the scripture states this plainly: “She served” (John 12:2). She didn’t hesitate to serve; she just served. And it did not go unnoticed in God’s inspired Word.

It’s easy to fall into a passive routine and just help when asked, but the truth is that when we actively serve – no matter the capacity – it helps and edifies others more than we could possibly know. But at the same time, we shouldn’t worry so much about our service that we run ourselves down (Luke 10:41). And speaking of being careful not to run ourselves down…

At the same time, know when it’s time to recharge

It’s entirely possible to feel run-down and exhausted after serving. It’s not out of selfishness that people feel this way; rather, they just need to rest and recharge. Think about an Olympic athlete. During this year’s Olympics, do you think they performed non-stop without a break? Do you think they performed without stopping to evaluate themselves and their skills?

As much as we want to do everything we can to serve anyone and everyone, we’re human. We get exhausted. Sometimes, we need to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet to allow ourselves to evaluate we are and start back on the path of righteousness once more. Jesus never discouraged anyone from listening to what He had to say. In fact, He either urged them to come closer, as was the case when children were present in Matthew 19:14, or He urged the passerby to listen to His parables by saying, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23). So, we should be unafraid to “sit” at His feet as well, evaluating ourselves as we study so that we can help and serve others further.

Know when it’s time to rely on faith

When Jesus came to Bethany upon the occasion of Lazarus’ death, Martha came out from her house to meet Him first. Even though she was grieving, she showed great bravery and faith in her response to Him. She tells Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). In response, he makes a statement and asks a question: “Your brother will rise again,” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23, 25-26). Her responses to each? “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” and “Yes, Lord;I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:24, 27).

How often have you run to Jesus in prayer when crisis hits? How often have you relied on the certainty of His promises to grant you comfort in trying times? It’s very easy to dwell on yourself and your own thoughts whenever you’re uncertain or in trouble, but it’s important to dwell and rest in His presence, as He has His arms open to us; all we have to do is run to them.

At the same time, know when it’s time to pour out your heart

After Martha exchanged words with Jesus, she called Mary out to meet Him. And when she does, she literally falls at His feet, saying, in tears, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32-33). The way He responds to Mary is different, but it is what she needed. After he asks her to show Him where Lazarus was laid to rest, He weeps (John 11:35). Even though that verse is the shortest in scripture, it’s important to note that he weeps with the people, including Mary (John 11:36-37). But notice here that He doesn’t criticize anyone – especially Mary – for mourning. In fact, He joins them.

Mary also pours out her heart in another way when the family hosts Jesus again in John 12:1-8. When she is criticized by Judas Iscariot for pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping it with her hair, Jesus responds by urging him to “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me” (John 12:7-8).

People need different things at different times. Sometimes, they need to talk things through; other times, they just need to let all of their emotions out. Because there’s a time and season for everything (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8), we need to respond based on what the person needs. It requires us to step outside ourselves in order to make sure the person we’re ministering to is comforted, but both we and they will be better for it if we do so.

All of this being said, we can be both like Mary and Martha. It’s very easy to categorize ourselves as either sister, but their attributes and traits are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are both role models for us in their own way, as well as Jesus Himself as He responds to their needs. No one person in the Bible is exclusive from the other; no one is perfect, but these sisters’ actions of service, rest, faith, and outpouring of emotion can all serve as examples for us as we walk Heavenward.

By Savannah Cottrell