Martha and choosing "that good part"

[Note: Last week, I was asked to speak in our YSA Stake Relief Society meeting as part of stake conference. The talk was sort of like this, or at least this is the best written version of what I said, with a few additions. I haven't ever posted a talk before, so here's to something new.]

In the New Testament, we hear of Martha and Mary, women who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to His word. We hear of Mary listening to the Savior and Martha serving and asking the Lord to make her sister help too. Noting Martha's concern, the Savior answers Martha kindly and tenderly. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part…” (Luke 10:42).

We know very little beyond these few verses of the story, but it is tempting to draw a harsh conclusion against Martha when reading this. And often, our study of this particular story brings up the question, "Are you a Mary or a Martha?" implying that one is spiritual and one is not. But, I see Martha a little differently.

In Luke 10:38 we read that Christ “entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house…and she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.”

Martha and Mary lived in Bethany with their brother Lazarus. They were disciples of Jesus Christ. When Jesus went to Bethany, he went to Martha’s own home. She received him. She served him.  She also listened to His words. And the scriptures even say, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus...”  (John 11:5).

As disciples, Martha and Mary both listened to His words. Both loved him. In Daughters in My Kingdom, we read, “in an age where women were generally expected to provide only temporal service, the Savior taught Martha and Mary that women could also participate spiritually in His work. He invited them to become His disciples and partake of salvation ‘that good part’”. 

But we read that Martha had a moment of rebuke, a moment where she thought what she was doing was the right thing, but she wasn't. And the Savior gently taught her how to seek Him.

Like Martha, have you ever had a day or a week or a month or maybe always where you feel rebuked or chastened? Or like you can’t do anything right? Where you try and you try but you still keep coming short?

Return to the story. The Lord tells Martha that she is careful and troubled about many things, and sees those as virtuous traits, but that she needed to seek Him.

What was she careful and troubled about?

The scriptures do not tell us her exact life circumstances. However, she was living with her brother and sister in her home. We read no words of a husband. We read no words of children.

It is possible that Martha was just like us. She had a home to take care of. She was concerned because she desired to follow Christ’s teachings but there was just so much to do. She, like we are, was perhaps concerned about if she would find someone to marry. She, like we are, was perhaps concerned about her livelihood. She, like we, may have often felt the pangs of having a mother heart, one that calls out to us to nurture when we have no children of our own.

So what are you careful and troubled with? Are you concerned about what to study, where to work, what kind of work you should do, or where your priorities should lie? Are you concerned because a loved one is suffering from an illness or because a family member has recently passed away? Are you concerned because you have a friend or a family member, or maybe even you, yourself, struggle with same-sex attraction? Or maybe you are concerned because your boyfriend just told you that he has a problem with pornography. Or maybe you have suffered because of the addictions or actions of another. Or with unemployment. Or with financial issues. Or maybe you are troubled because you struggle with loving yourself. Or you have depression or anxiety. Or maybe you don’t know if the Savior can forgive you. To all of these, I first say, the Savior wants to help you with these concerns. And not only does He want to, He can and He will.

How? Well, what did Martha do with her concerns? We know that she chose that good part. The continuing story of Martha and Mary comes when Lazarus is sick. Both sisters sent for Jesus, but Lazarus died before He came. When Martha heard the Savior was near, she went to find him, to tell him Lazarus had died.

Martha said to Jesus, “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.”

I love her faith and testimony. She chose the good part.

The Savior then speaks to this extremely faithful woman of God and says some of the most comforting words in all scripture, “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?”

“She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:25-27).

This is one of the very few instances of a woman’s recorded testimony in the scriptures. And what a testimony it is. “I believe that thou art the Christ.”

This disciple of Christ, this faithful Martha, knew Christ as the Savior. And we read that He wept with Martha and Mary and then, the Son of God raised Lazarus from the dead. Both Martha and Mary partook of the good part and witnessed miracles.

In February, it was the one year anniversary of the passing of my grandmother. I was very careful and troubled about many things, including thoughts of my grandma, and my heart was tender that day. I had training in Lehi during the day and I had planned to stop off at the Jordan River temple on my way home from the training. As I drove, I felt prompted to go to the Draper Temple instead of Jordan River. As I drove toward the temple, I felt prompted to call my grandma’s brother—my great-uncle who lives by the Draper Temple—and see if I could drop by. And then I felt prompted to contact my mission companion—who also lives in Draper—and who has 5-month-old triplets, to see if she needed help that night.

I did sealings at the temple, I visited with my great-aunt and great-uncle. I went and helped get the triplets to sleep. My heart was so full that night as I had been mourning my grandma. I had been troubled, but I had followed the prompting to sit at the feet of Christ and partake in His light that night. And little did I know that three weeks later my great-uncle would join my grandma on the other side. Little did I know that I would be asked to help at the funeral. Little did I know that because of what I did that night when I was troubled, many promptings would follow that have led me to some extremely personal, miraculous, and spiritual experiences in the past two months. Because I chose to sit at His feet.

There are times when we are like Mary and are immediately at the Savior's feet. But there are many more times in my life when I am chastened by the Lord and I feel Him begging with me to sit at His feet. Even this week, I was told several times that I needed to be a kinder person and not get so frustrated about things in my life. It is easy for me to chalk those experiences up to failures and to beat up on myself. But that is not what Martha did, as far as we know. And even if she did, she came out of it. She rededicated herself. And to her was given one of the most glorious truths of the gospel “I am the resurrection and the life.” And from her mouth came a powerful witness of the Savior, “I believe that thou art the Christ.”

My prayer is that when the Lord reminds us to come and sit at His feet, that we will be as Martha, and we will do so. I know that as we do, we will be strengthened and He will reveal marvelous truths to us. And He will heal us.

I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the very son of God. He is our Savior. And I know He lives.

***Below is a shortened rendition of "Make Me Whole" from Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. This song is a musical representation of Martha's pleading to Christ after Lazarus has died. It is so touching to me. I wish they had recorded the whole song, but since they didn't, I recommend buying this song.

In this, the character of Martha sings:

Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, which should come,
The Son of God,
But I do not understand…
Touch my eyes and bid them see
That my gaze might pierce the veil,
And behold the wondrous scene
That, in dreams, I’ve long beheld.
Oh, touch my heart and bid it know
That ev’ry sorrow here
Is but a moment’s tear,
And Thou wilt make me whole again.

Read more here or listen to more here

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