I thought of this while I was studying Mary and Martha recently. I know, that probably leaves you scratching your head and saying, "What in the world…?" What can I say? My mind works in peculiar ways, especially when it is encumbered with impending medical tests, classes to be taught, and company coming all at the same time.
So here are my crazy thoughts, in case you are interested. Everyone, and by that I mean for the most part, anyone who stands in a pulpit and teaches that story in Luke 10, will diagnose Martha as "unspiritual." I happened to be charting out the death of Lazarus in John 11 and was startled by what I believe the doctors might call "contraindications." Look at the things she says to Jesus:
Martha said to Jesus, “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). May I suggest that you go look at verse 32? Mary said exactly the same thing—at least the first part. The last part ("but even now…") was Martha's and Martha's only. What did she have in mind? A raising, perhaps? After all, Jesus had raised two from the dead previously, the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus's daughter. But then, this one was a bit different. The others were either immediate or, per Jewish custom, on the same day as the death. So maybe she wasn't quite sure, but I believe it must have crossed her mind.
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24). This one shows her knowledge of scripture. Even today many doubt that the Jews under the Old Law had any concept of life after death or Heaven. How that is, I do not know. Do you know the end of the Psalm 23? And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Then we have this: But as for me I know that my Redeemer lives, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God; Whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, And my eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger… (Job 19:25-27). Martha obviously knew those verses, and that's not the half of it.
She said to him, Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world (John 11:27). What had Jesus been trying without much success to do for about three years at that point? Prove he was the Messiah. Martha got it, even when the most "religious" and "spiritual" among that generation did not. I dare anyone to look at this conversation with her Lord and tell me seriously that she was not a spiritual person.
Yes, Martha had a problem, but it was not what everyone says it was. If you notice the first incident in Luke 10, Jesus did not rebuke her until she complained about her sister. Then in the last incident recorded about this remarkable woman in John 12, what is she doing? "…and Martha served…" John 12:2. There she is again, doing exactly what she was doing in Luke 10 except for one thing—she was not complaining about her sister, who was once again at Jesus's feet, this time anointing both his head and his feet (check Matthew 26). Martha had the same problem that a lot of strong spiritually-minded people have—she looked down on others who did not serve in the same way she did.
Paul takes on this attitude in the famous Romans 14 controversy and quashes both sides with this statement: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls…(Rom 14:4). It wasn't Martha's business to decide what Mary needed to be doing. It isn't my business to look across the building on Sunday morning and decide that since someone isn't doing the same sort of serving I am doing, then they are wrong and need to get up and help me. For one thing, none of us really knows how much another is doing, and sometimes the things others do would have never crossed my mind to do. We are all different people with different abilities and different offerings to make to the Lord.
Let's not misdiagnose Martha. She was indeed a spiritual woman. She knew her scripture even though as a girl she would not have been sent to the synagogue schools beyond age 12, if that far. (My sources vary on this.) She learned it at home from her parents, at the synagogue on the Sabbath where the Scripture was read, and for those years she followed Jesus. But Martha was impatient and, perhaps, judgmental. With the Lord's help, she dealt with those things and seems to have conquered them for he did not rebuke her at the second occasion. Do you suppose we could do the same?
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Jas 4:12).