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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: H. Hastings Weld :: The Women of the Scriptures

H. Hastings Weld :: The Family at Bethany

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Picture of Martha



We are told that Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. It does not appear that there were any other members of the family than these three, whom Jesus loved. No person in this happy household, while the others sided with the Redeemer, joined or sympathised with his enemies. When Jesus left those who endeavoured to bewray Him in his speech, or to find whereof they might accuse Him, and sought rest with his friends in Bethany, He knew that under that roof, as He loved all, all loved Him. Whom the Jews sought to kill, they aimed to comfort. Whom the Pharisees contemned, they honoured and ministered unto. Jerusalem was a short distance from Bethany; but to go from the city to the cottage was like going from earth to Heaven. The temple was at Jerusalem: those who worshipped God in spirit and in truth-and he seeketh such to worship Him-were at Bethany. The pomp of the truly magnificent levitical vestments-the swell of the loud Hosanna-the sound of sackbut and lute, and harp, and trumpet,-thousands of rams, and calves of a year old, and rivers of oil, were at the city of David. At Bethany were contrite and faithful hearts, the sacrifices with which God is well pleased"and to Bethany Jesus delighted to turn from Jerusalem"for He loved the household there. And as He loved them, they loved Him. When in that house, the inmates saw "the man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," (Isa 53:3) toiling with weary steps over the Mount of Olives, to approach their dwelling, all hearts bounded to meet Him. All lips expressed His welcome. All hands contended for the honour of ministering to His necessities.

While Martha served, Mary rose from the table to express her grateful humility at the presence of Jesus, by anointing His feet with ointment and wiping them with the hair of her head. The sisters were of one mind in the reverence and love they bore Him. We read that once indeed Martha appealed to the Saviour, because that Mary chose rather to listen at His feet, than to busy herself with the affairs of the household. But Jesus loved Martha and her sister. He accepted the homage of both. He gently reproved, or He kindly admonished both"for he knoweth our frames and remembereth we are dust. The characters of the two sisters are in striking contrast. Martha was active"Mary contemplative. Martha appears to have been a creature of impulse; Mary was slower of apprehension, and of course less sudden in her resolves and in her movements. Martha was the elder, and the head of the household, for it is written, "a certain woman named Martha received Jesus into her house." (Luk 10:38.) She had already become conversant with the character, and the works, and teachings of Jesus; and in the exercise of matronly hospitality testified her active respect and living faith, by tendering to Him the shelter of her roof, and the refreshment of her table.

Nor was it to the Master alone, that this hospitality was extended. A great multitude followed Jesus, and Martha was cumbered with much serving. It was just after Jesus had sent out many disciples, as his heralds and witnesses. They had proved the wonderful power of the word they had received; and returned in joy and gratitude to thank and adore Him, who had enabled them thus mightily to conquer. The Seventy led the multitude who had seen their wonderful works, to the feet of Him by whom these mighty deeds had been accomplished; and their joy was made full by the assurance of Jesus that a higher was in reserve for them. "Notwithstanding," he said, "in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice, because your names are written in Heaven." (Luk 10:10.) And now behold Martha welcoming the happy multitude. She loved them all, because they loved Jesus. She was above all selfishness"careless of all trouble"indifferent to all expenditure of her substance. Hers was a large, hers was a faithful heart; and she was ready to minister, as far as her utmost means would allow, to the welcome of all who loved Jesus.

She had sat at the feet of the Saviour, and heard his words; for the meaning of the phrase to sit at the feet of a teacher is to receive instruction from him. Having heard the word, her peculiar temperament, her active habits, her generous mind, led her into practical discipleship"for she "received Him into her house."(Luk 10:38.) And in her house the Saviour continued the instructions which He had been dispensing by the way. Mary, the younger, not yet so far advanced in the Christian life as her sister-and perhaps provoked to emulation by her sister's good works, forgot the cares and anxieties of the reception to listen to Jesus. She saw not the crowd for whom Martha was so anxious to provide. She thought not of the laborious details of household economy. Her young heart was wrapped in the word of life. Her devout attention was entranced by the teachings of Him who spake as never man spake. And oh, how well‐pleasing in the sight of God is it, when the youthful mind is thus engaged: how delightful to witness the devotion of the first thoughts‐the attention of the faculties in their youthful vigour and freshness to the one thing needful!

Martha was careful, and troubled about many things. We are not, however, led to infer, from any thing that appears in the narrative, that these many things were, in themselves, improper or unpraiseworthy. It was commendable in her that she received Jesus and his disciples into her house. It was not merely allowable, but her duty hospitably to entertain them. It was the manifestation of her faith and obedience in the mode most agreeable to her active and industrious temperament. And it was only when she suffered her anxiety to get the better of her charity that our blessed Lord reproved her. He did not say that she had not, as well as Mary, chosen a good part. But when the elder sister appealed to her guest to direct Mary to testify her respect in the same manner that she herself did, Jesus taught her, and, through her hath He taught us, that He accepts the homage, and receives the worship of the different members of the Christian household, according to the stations to which they are called, and the faculties with which they are endowed. We are not, because another's disposition leads to deportment different from ours, to set up ourselves for standards, and call for reproof upon them, for departing from our views of propriety and of duty. God is the judge, and not man; and those may be more acceptable in His sight than we who would reprove them.

Such little difficulties disturbed the house at Bethany, for its inmates were human. But the interruption was but for an instant, for they were lovers of Jesus, and aimed to possess His meek and lowly mind. So were they of one heart at Bethany, and Jesus in their midst was the beloved friend and the cherished guest of all. Their friend in prosperity, He was their stay and hope in grief. Death invaded their happy circle. The destroyer came not suddenly. His approach was not without warning. The mind fills up the picture which the simple and artless narrative of St. John gives us of the affliction of this household. When their brother was sick, their thoughts turned to their one dear friend, and the sisters sent to the absent Lord, whom they all loved, in behalf of the brother in whose grief they were afflicted. But He who hears prayer, knows best in what mode it should be answered. What seem to us inscrutable afflictions may be intended for the glory of God. The heavenly visitor who had so often cheered their cottage in the day of health and prosperity, in the hour of sorrow delayed His coming.

No doubt the sisters said to each other, as each separately said to our Lord afterward, "If He were here, our brother would not die." (Jhn 11:21.) Now Mary beseeches Martha to leave watching at the couch‐side, and seek her needful rest. She who left Martha to serve alone, when all was health and happiness, now that sorrow has entered the house, insists upon bearing her full share of the melancholy labour. And now Martha will not suffer that Mary shall do even her proportion of the offices of affection.-As they contend in love, their hope is overcast. He whom they thought would outrun their messenger, in his haste to come to them, still delayed. Now they watch the path over the Mount of Olives-now they turn their anxious gaze upon the road to Jericho. Each traveller, as he comes in sight in the distance, raises hope-only to break their hearts anew with disappointment. In none of the strange features of the passers by do they see the well known lineaments of the dearly beloved man of Nazareth. Friends offer consolation, but in vain. What shall man say, when the hand of God is upon us?

Night falls. The ear of the watcher is divided between the faint breathing of the dying man and the echo of the distant foot‐fall. In vain by night they listen, as in vain they watched by day. Jesus arrives not, even to close the eyes of their brother. He comes not to witness the rites of sepulture. Many of the Jews were there, to cast the last respectful look upon the clay‐cold features, and to comfort Martha and Mary concerning Lazarus. But he who loved Martha and Mary kept aloof-indifferent, it would seem, to the last comfort in affliction-the poor privilege of looking upon the form and face before worms destroy the body, and corruption mars its comeliness.-Four days have elapsed. The sentence "dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return," (Gen 3:19) has already commenced its fulfilment; and affection is forced, by the reluctant acknowledgment of the senses, to give him up whom they had long known on earth, as one whom they should know here no longer.

Now Martha's quicker ear detects the whispered word that the prophet is coming. She says nothing to her sister-why should she? Hope for Lazarus was past-at least all earthly hope; but in all her grief she had not forgotten the assurance which she expressed a moment after to our Lord, "I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection, at the last day." (Jhn 11:24.) Trembling at the words which she had heard in her short interview with the Lord, she returned to call Mary, but secretly, for fear of the Jews. All who have passed through affliction know how the first sight of a friend of the departed awakens afresh all the anguish of sorrow. It is like witnessing again the last sigh-it is burying the dead once more to meet with one with whom, and the deceased, you have held sweet counsel. So Mary felt, and her grief was uncontrollable. The Jews who supposed she went to the grave to weep there, arose and followed her. As Martha had said, so said Mary, weeping, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." (Jhn 11:32.) When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews also weeping that came with her, He gave the blessed assurance that no reason could teach; the comforting truth that no philosopher could propound, that, as our elder brother, he sympathizes in our sorrows. Then came the mighty miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. The faith of the sisters was rewarded by the restoration to their arms of him who had been numbered among the dead. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning," (Psa 30:5) to those who, like the family at Bethany, have chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from them. A greater joy than they knew, remaineth for the faithful; for Lazarus arose, again to descend into the tomb. A mightier miracle than the raising of Lazarus was accomplished in the resurrection of the Son of God, who died no more, since death hath no more dominion over him. "Delivered for our sins, he was raised again for our justification:" (Rom 4:25.)

Risen triumphant over sin and death,
That his Redeemer lives, the Christian knows:
Thus taught, he prophesies in humble faith,
The dead in Christ shall rise, as Jesus rose.

Yet are tears holy: since the Son of Man
Bowed Him in tender grief where Lazarus slept,
His blest example bids us not refrain
Affection's sacred tears-for JESUS wept.

The Syrophenician Woman ← Prior Section
The Legend of Mary Magdalen Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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