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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Martha

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Mar´tha, sister of Lazarus and Mary, who resided in the same house with them at Bethany [LAZARUS]. From the house at Bethany being called 'her house,' in , and from the leading part which Martha is always seen to take in domestic matters, it has seemed to some that she was a widow, to whom the house at Bethany belonged, and with whom her brother and sister lodged; but this is uncertain, and the common opinion, that the sisters managed the household of their brother, is more probable. Luke probably calls it her house because he had no occasion to mention, and does not mention, Lazarus; and when we speak of a house which is occupied by different persons, we avoid circumlocution by calling it the house of the individual who happens to be the subject of our discourse. Jesus was intimate with this family, and their house was often his home when at Jerusalem, being accustomed to retire thither in the evening, after having spent the day in the city. The point which the Evangelists bring out most distinctly with respect to Martha, lies in the contrariety of disposition between her and her sister Mary. The first notice of Christ's visiting this family occurs in . He was received with great attention by the sisters; and Martha soon hastened to provide suitable entertainment for the Lord and His followers, while Mary remained in His presence, sitting at His feet, and drinking in the sacred words that fell from His lips. The active, bustling solicitude of Martha, anxious that the best things in the house should be made subservient to the Master's use and solace, and the quiet earnestness of Mary, more desirous to profit by the golden opportunity of hearing His instructions, than to minister to His personal wants, strongly mark the points of contrast in the characters of the two sisters.

The part taken by the sisters in the transactions connected with the death and resurrection of Lazarus, is entirely and beautifully in accordance with their previous history. Martha is still more engrossed with outward things, while Mary surrenders herself more to her feelings, and to inward meditation. When they heard that Jesus was approaching, Martha hastened beyond the village to meet him, 'but Mary sat still in the house' (; ). When she saw Jesus actually appear, whose presence had been so anxiously desired, she exhibits a strong degree of faith, and hesitates not to express a confident hope that he, to whom all things were possible, would even yet afford relief. But, as is usual with persons of her lively character, when Christ answered, with what seemed to her the vague intimation, 'Thy brother shall rise again,' she was instantly cast down from her height of confidence, the reply being less direct than she expected: she referred this saying to the general resurrection at the last day, and thereon relapsed into despondency and grief. This feeling Jesus reproved, by directing her attention, before all other things, to that inward, eternal, and divine life, which consists in union with him, and which is raised far above the power even of the grave. This he did in the magnificent words, 'I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?' Sorrow and shame permitted the troubled Martha, in whose heart the feeling of an unconditional and entire surrender to his will was re-awakened, to make only the general confession that he was actually the promised Messiah; in which confession she, however, comprised an acknowledgment of his power and greatness. It is clear, however, that she found nothing in this discourse with Christ, to encourage her first expectation of relief; and with the usual rapid change in persons of lively susceptibilities, she had now as completely abandoned all hope of rescue for her brother, as she had before been sanguine of his restoration to life. Thus, when Jesus directed the stone to be rolled away from the sepulcher, she gathered from this no ground of hope; but rather objected to its being done, because the body, which had been four days in the tomb, must already have become disagreeable. The reproof of Christ, 'Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?' suggests that more discourse had passed between them than the evangelist has recorded, seeing that no such assurance is contained in the previous narrative ().

Nothing more is recorded of Martha, save that some time after, at a supper given to Christ and his disciples at Bethany, she, as usual, busied herself in the external service. Lazarus, so marvelously restored from the grave, sat with her guests at table. 'Martha served,' and Mary occupied her favorite station at the feet of Jesus, which she bathed with her tears, and anointed with costly ointment () [LAZARUS; MARY].

There are few characters in the New Testament, and certainly no female character, so strongly brought out in its natural points as that of Martha; and it is interesting to observe that Luke and John, although relating different transactions in which she was concerned, perfectly agree in the traits of character which they assign to her.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Martha'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/m/martha.html.

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