Women: MVP of Faith
Are you a Martha? Are you watching the work of Jesus from the sidelines? Is that where you believe you belong? Do you feel marginalized in church? Do you feel relegated to second class status in terms of being a disciple of Jesus?
Have you experienced major disappointments as a Jesus’ follower and are content to ‘sit out life on the bench”? John has a word of encouragement for you to consider. So do I. Modern-day Martha, you have a place on his team, but it is not on the bench.
John may have had you in mind when he put the zoom lens on Martha in John 11. John considers Martha a key player, a heavy hitter in the Christian community. A MVP of faith. Marthas were not meant to be in the grandstands watching, but on the playing field where they can make a difference. So, where are you sitting today?
Elizabeth Elliot and Gracia Burnham
I have been encouraged by the discerning faith of Marthas, women of God in Jesus’ church. In my seminary days, I read Elizabeth Elliot’s, Through Gates of Splendor, the story of her missionary husband’s (Jim Elliot) death in the jungles of Ecuador, and her additional writings.
Recently, I have been inspired and encouraged by the teaching and discerning faith of Gracia Burnham, whose missionary husband (Martin Burnham) was killed by terrorists in the Philippine jungles.
Both women experienced tragedy and grief. Both experienced wounds and disappointments. But the disappointments and wounds of life failed to confine them to the sidelines. Those disappointments only served to awaken and stretch their faith in Jesus. Their discerning faith in Jesus brought hope and encouragement to many, including me.
Perhaps you can identify with similar disappointments and wounds. Perhaps you were abandoned by your father and were raised by a faithful mother. Perhaps you observed your father mistreat or abuse your mother. Perhaps as a young wife, you discovered that your “knight in shining armor” was little more than a self-focused man without armor. The career that seemed so promising to you has faded away. The children you had high hopes for might have brought you public embarrassment and even shame. Perhaps death claimed a loved one early in life. Disappointments, wounds, and Christian women are not strangers.
But those experiences, while sad, do not translate into bench sitting. Jesus has other plans for you. Martha’s case is one I think you can identify with. So, I ask for you to consider her as your role model.
Martha, sister to Lazarus and Mary, bore the burden of disadvantage. She was a marginalized woman in a male dominated society. She was single. She suffered the loss of the only male in her household (Lazarus). She had not witnessed any spectacular miracles performed by Jesus.
Yet in the Gospel of John, Martha emerges as the champion, the MVP of faith. You, can, too. Jesus elevates marginalized women.
We meet up with Martha in the midst of deep disappointment. When their brother Lazarus became critically ill, Mary and Martha sent an urgent message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick”. They needed immediate help. They believed that Jesus, if only He would come, could work a miracle and heal their sick brother.
But Jesus chose not to answer their urgent request. He remained two additional days in the area across the Jordan River and when he finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead. He had been in the grave for four days. Jesus was too late. Too late to heal Lazarus.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:21) Martha clearly had faith in Jesus, even in her disappointment. Despite her brother’s death, she half expected that Jesus would still do something. But Jesus saw that her faith, though real, was under developed and inadequate. She didn’t yet recognize his full identity. She saw his power to heal, but didn’t realize that the one who loved her also had the power to give life, reverse death, with a simple word.
And so Jesus orchestrated a purposeful delay, motivated by His love. His delay provided an opportunity to push Martha’s faith in Him up to a new level, a major league level. Martha’s personal disappointment opened up a personal appointment with Jesus.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus tells her. “The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 25-26).
Rather than giving Martha assurance about the future resurrection, Jesus unveils to her—a marginalized woman--the most significant truth about himself in John’s entire Gospel. Those future expectations of resurrection from the dead are realized in the here and now--today.
Martha’s Home Run
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks her. Martha’s response, her confession of faith, ranks her as the MVP of faith in John’s Gospel. Based entirely on Jesus’ words, without even a miracle performed, and her loved brother still dead in the tomb. Martha replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27) No hesitation on her part. Martha hit the first pitch into the seats.
In the Synoptic Gospels the place of honor is given to Peter to make the great confession about Jesus. Peter’s confession is the center pillar in the building. In response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am,” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt.16:16)
Martha Wins the Place of Honor
But, in the 4th Gospel, John replaces Peter’s pillar like confession with Martha’s confession. Her confession of faith in Jesus is the Center Pillar in John’s Gospel. Martha’s confession is World Series caliber. Martha wins the place of honor. She didn’t make that confession on the bench. She made it at home plate. That is the spot where you can be, too.
Faith in Jesus without Advantages
Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus’ identity, in my opinion, is superior to Nathaniel’s, Thomas’s and even to Peter’s in some respects. They all enjoyed advantages she lacked. She discerned Jesus’ true identity without the benefit of miracles or the resurrection.
Faith in Jesus Despite Grief and Sorrow
She made her confession in the throes of disappointment and grief. Martha was only four days removed from the death of her brother. But despite the grief, she believed the words of Jesus’ self-claim .Her faith was not based upon signs or miracles, but strictly in Jesus’ words alone. She listened to Jesus. She believed. She confessed. I’m impressed. Aren’t you? But her case was meant for you to consider. Are you a Martha, but still on the bench?
Faith Superior to Nathaniel and Thomas
When Nathaniel made a confession of faith in Jesus, Jesus spoke to him about his past history to persuade him that he was divine (1:47-50).
When Thomas made a significant confession of faith in Jesus (“My Lord and my God”; 20:28), he had seen the resurrected Christ, touched his side and fingered his nail--scarred hands.
But Martha’s discerning faith in Jesus, made without the advantage of witnessing miracles, made in the midst of grief and disappointment, is striking for its insight and strength.
Are you a Martha?
John installed Martha’s confession as the center pillar in his book for a reason. Women, disadvantaged Marthas, can have great faith in Jesus, even greater than Jesus’ disciples. Marginalized Marthas can exercise strong, robust, and discerning faith.
Does Martha’s portrait describe you? Does her case resonate with you? Do you identify with her discerning faith and yet feel marginalized? If so, consider my heart-felt plea to you.
Jesus’ church needs you and your discerning faith. There are men and women suffering grief and sorrow in his church who need to hear your discerning faith in Jesus. You can be used by Jesus to shore up their sagging hopes. You can be a strong pillar when the roof of their life is caving in with disappointment.
Jesus’ church needs you. Jesus wants you on his playing field. What are you doing sitting on the bench? I know. Some think that is where you belong. But John doesn’t. And so neither do I.
John included Martha’s story and faith for women like you to identify with. She was meant to be a role model for you. You don’t belong on the bench. You belong at the plate with a faith bat, able and ready for the next pitch.
John: Impressed by Martha
I’m impressed with Martha. But more importantly, John, under the Spirit’s inspiration, was impressed. That is precisely why he included Martha’s story in his Gospel. Is her story meant just for you? Consider it. Jesus may want you to be a modern-day Martha in your faith community.
But, Martha, you need an advocate. You need someone who believes in you when you’ve stopped believing in yourself, to make it happen.
I’m not quite finished with Martha. For you to become a twenty-first century Martha, and break free from a marginalized place on the bench, you need an advocate. Jesus advocated for Martha and elevated her. You also need a person who, like Jesus, can advocate for you. That issue, hopefully, will constitute part 3. Thank you for reading, Martha. J Hope to see you at home plate. I have a bat and uniform with your name on it.