Lenten Devotional Series: The Women Who First Followed Jesus

Read and pray through Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-44, 12:1-8.

Introduction | We are walking together through the Church season of Lent. Lent, which means “springtime or renewal,” began to be observed by the Body of Christ sometime during the 4th century. Lent spans forty days (not counting Sundays) modeled after Jesus’ time fasting in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry. Lent is a sacred time of remembrance, renewal, and spiritual preparation in our journey of faith with Jesus.

Over these next few weeks of Lent, we invite you to take up the practice of reading and reflecting on the women who first followed Jesus. We all know that the four gospels emphasize the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to “Come and see.” But several women also follow Jesus as he teaches, heals, offers miraculous signs, and purposefully makes his way towards first, offering himself on a Cross, but ultimately rising to a life beyond death.

Each week, we will look more closely at one of these women so we can better appreciate what they each saw in Jesus and how they learned to follow his lead with their lives. Each Tuesday, I’ll provide an overview and some brief reflection on the life of each of these women. On Thursday, a female member of our staff will offer their thoughts. Each Saturday, I will provide a Lectio Divina prayer exercise so that we can reflect more deeply in the Spirit in terms of each week’s devotional theme and focus.

Reflection | I have lost track of the amount of times that the example of Mary versus Martha has been brought up in conversations, bibles studies, and by speakers at events. A classic case of sibling rivalry that has been spun into a cautionary tale to Christians, and even more so women, to not be overtaken by the busy tasks and forget to actually be with Jesus. For me, it made sense to think of these two sisters as spiritual foils. Honestly, I always imagined the inner dialogue of Martha going something like this:

What’s next on my list? Oh yes, the food! I need to make sure there is enough for everyone. Now, where is Mary? I can’t do this all on my own! How does she always wander off at the most inconvenient times? Seriously, does she not see that we have guests and that we need to be good hosts to them, that we need to provide for their needs while they visit our home? Wait. She’s sitting at Jesus’ feet?! While I am trying to make sure everything is in order, she is taking a break and leaving me to do everything on my own. She always does this and I wish she would just see that I need her help. That I am doing my best. Why isn’t Jesus correcting her? Does he not care that I need help? Did he not notice? Does he not notice or care for me? 

It is easy for me to come up with that inner dialogue for Martha, because I often find myself having this same dialogue of all the things that need to be done and feeling that no one notices my efforts. For many years, I internalized the idea that I need to have, “a Mary heart, in a Martha world”. That I need not be consumed by the tasks, the checklists, the tyranny of the urgent – things that are not as important as we make them out to be. I mean, Jesus even says to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed- or indeed only one.” (Luke 10:41) 

Nevertheless, we miss the point whenever we read about Martha in Luke 10:38-42. We miss the point because we are so focused on the details – mainly the disparities in Martha and Mary – that we miss Jesus and his presence in these women’s lives. You see there is more to Martha’s story, to her discipleship, than just this single encounter that we confine her character within. Martha is seen in three different instances in the Gospels: Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-44 and John 12:1-8. Why do we gloss over her other interactions with Jesus and only leave her cast as the overly hospitable busy body that we oversimplify into a caricature for women’s ministry event speakers? I want to look at how we see Martha grow in her faith from Luke 10:38-42 to John 11:1-44.

Martha is an imperfect follower of Jesus, just like the 12 disciples, just like us. Martha shows us, in her interactions with Jesus, what it is like to continue to grow in our discipleship and faith. When we see her in the gospel of Luke, Martha exemplifies what a servant-heart looks like as an expression of her faith. By welcoming Jesus and his disciples in her household, she is stewarding what she has, to create a sacred space. What she forgets momentarily in her well-intentioned service is that serving is not about her. The one she’s serving in faith is present, and she has not taken that time to be with him! I see her exasperation, her work, her frustration, and I recognize it in myself. Don’t we all experience these moments? Moments where we get caught up in something good, well-meaning, but we forget the heart of our service. I know I do, and the number one place this happens for me is in ministry! I am Martha, an example of imperfect discipleship for a perfect savior, who does not chastise me, but reminds me of my path, my walk with him. Jesus simply reorients Martha’s perspective. Martha is you and me wanting to faithfully do the good of the Kingdom, but sometimes our understanding of why and how gets mixed up or needs redirection. The Martha we see as a Martha Stewart is really Martha a steward; she is just learning how to steward her faith well, just like the rest of us.

We then see Martha again in John 11:1-44, her brother Lazarus has fallen ill and dies before Jesus can come to heal him. While we know that Jesus will use this moment for his glory, at the time Martha and Mary were hoping for the healer to arrive in time. I love how Pastor Chris illustrated this for us in his Tuesday devotional, that “Her first words to Jesus express a mixture of frustration, anguish, and regret we all can identify with – if not now, at some point later in our lives. Every one of us will experience, more than once in our lives, a similar grief.” Have you ever had that experience of grief? One that makes you frustrated and angry with Jesus at what he could have done but didn’t do? I have experienced many of these moments of grief. Moments where I am so upset with Jesus, that I have said to him (out loud through hot angry tears), “Jesus, you could have fixed this, you could have stopped this from happening!” Again, Martha’s words to Jesus are ones we all would have at any moment of intense grief. She is seeking to understand what has happened as well as why Jesus did not arrive on time to do what she knows he can do. We all have those moments, where we seek to understand God’s will, why we are suffering, why there is pain. She is not a bad disciple for wrestling with her current anguish, she is actually looking to Jesus in faithfulness. It is her next response to Jesus that shows faith that looks beyond the current anguish in life, to the One who brings life:

“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. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Even before she witnesses Jesus’ power of resurrection, that Jesus himself is life, Martha puts her faith in him. Even in her anguish, her suffering, she looks to Jesus and WHO he is for her bearings. John mentions, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” and, as Pastor Chris mentioned in his devotional, Bethany was a central location for Jesus’ ministry. Therefore, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus must have spent more time with Jesus than these few encounters we see written. Martha would come to know who Jesus is more and more over that time. She would move forward from her gentle reminder in Luke 10:38-42, to continuing to learn from Jesus as well as serve his ministry through hosting him and the disciples. Martha continues her journey of faith and continues to be transformed by her faith in Jesus. She gives us a REAL example of what it means to continue to learn from Jesus, know who he is in our lives, and to try and try again to better understand his work in our lives and the lives of others. Martha shows us that it is ok to not have everything figured out in our faith, but what matters most in our discipleship is to continue to learn from and lean into who Jesus is and be transformed by our relationship with him. We are not always going to walk our faith perfectly, that is why we have an author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) to continuously fix our eyes upon and be refined by.

Martha demonstrates the growth we all experience as disciples of Christ. She shows us that we continue to grow in our faith, our discipleship, and our love of Jesus each and everyday. May we remember that Jesus is with us, teaching us, refining us, correcting us, and loving us through this journey of faith. And as we look to the Cross and the Resurrection, may we be reminded that we have new life everyday and eternally because of Jesus.

Consider & Discuss | Do you feel like you place a standard of perfection on your discipleship? Do you live in the tension that you are more like Martha than Mary? Can you see how this is not a bad thing?
Where have there been moments in your life, moments of imperfection, grief, or suffering where you felt guilty for asking Jesus why? Can you see these moments of frustration, anger, or confusion with Jesus as holy and sacred – drawing you closer in your relationship with him?

Prayer Focus | Jesus, Thank you for your continued offer of forgiveness. We are not perfect Jesus, but you still draw near to us, reminding us of your love and grace for us in our journey of faith. We thank you for the moments that seem to bring us to you in less than perfect ways but are actually holy spaces for us to draw near and be comforted by who you are. You continue to call us even when we are broken. May we continue to press into you and learn from you, so that we can continue to be refined and transformed in your image. Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Mary Taylor