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Martha, Religion in Service.

Martha, Religion in Service.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Feb 13, 2014
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Martha, Religion in Service.



A FORTNIGHT ago we spoke of Mary and of Religion in Beauty.

To-day we speak of Martha and of Religion in Service.

Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, and all three were friends of Jesus. Jesus loved women and women loved Jesus. Between all grand men and good women there is a reciprocity of admiration and affection.

When Jesus became acquainted with this charming family circle we have no means of knowing ; but they are brought to us three times in the history of our Lord very distinctly, and a two-volume novel could not make us bet1

ter acquainted with their characters.

Between the two sisters there is a contrast, but it is a contrast which exists between two excellent characters. It is not fair to depreciate either. Each had her womanly foibles, and I call them "womanly" not in disparagement but in mitigation. Speaking generally, the faults of men are the faults of pride, and the faults of women are the faults of vanity. Vanity is weak, but Pride is wicked. In an honest and critical study of character we need not conceal faults ; they are not vices. They are superficial, not radical.

We can never bring humanity to be saintly until we can all agree to be willing to allow that saints, male and female, are human. And so, in speakmg of these two holy women and treating them as human beings I must not be suspected of any lack of reverence for the holiness of their character, seeing that our dear Lord and Saviour made them to be of the number of His intimate friends.


The first opening of the door of their house by the hand of the Evangelist shows us a most natural and beautiful domestic scene. It is in Luke's tenth chapter.

Jesus had come into the house tired with travel and preaching. His reception by the sisters shows the difference in their temperaments. Mary sat at His feet, listening lovingly to His words. Mary was receptive. But Martha went bustling about the house, preparing many things, intent upon giving Jesus something of a festal

reception as He came from His tiresome journey. At last her industry passed over into worry. She became cumbered about much serving. And then she became a little fretful. And she went from the kitchen to the sitting-room and broke in upon the party with the half-playful, half-petulant speech addressed to Mary through Jesus, " Dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone ? Bid her therefore that

she help me !"

All this seems to me to be very natural, if not very gracious.

Let us go among them as human beings and look into all their faces, and if possible reproduce all their lives. It may help us to understand the brief narrative.

Mary loved Jesus as much as Martha did, and Martha as much as Mary. Martha was probably the elder sister and had the main care of the house. It did not occur to Mary that much preparation would be needed, and she loved Jesus so that she went straight into the sitting-room and took a stool at His feet, in the confidence of innocence. Martha loved Him just as much, and knew that He must have something to eat and water to wash with and a comfortable bed. Mary thought of what she needed of Jesus. Martha thought of what Jesus needed of her. She was so anxious to get back to Jesus that she felt keenly how her work was

depriving her of the pleasure and profit of the company of her illustrious friend and guest. Mary was having all the good of it. Martha was not envious of her sister, but she desired to have some of the happiness of that society, and if no one helped her she would lose it all.

Now I think it was very natural that she should say what she did. She had some reason. It was very nice for Mary to sit at those dear feet and hear words of goodness from those dear lips. But it was not so nice for Martha to be sweating in the kitchen. There may have been some impatience in Martha's tone as she uttered her request. I suspect there was. But I think her speech was a gentle remonstrance with Mary.

It does not seem to me that the reply of Jesus has been always properly interpreted. It has, I think, generally been regarded as a rather severe rebuke to Martha and a boundless compliment to Mary. I venture to say that it was neither the one nor the other. So much here

depends upon the tone. Suppose Jesus had pronounced the words this way —

[It is impossible to reproduce elocution in a printed report. The preacher here recited the words with a frown and in a rough, scolding, blustering tone, in the first part of the sentence: in the second part, " And Mary hath chosen," with a bland look] — " Martha, Martha, thou art careful and perplexed about many things: but one thing is needful. And Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." But He did not. He did probably convey in His tone, as is intimated in the repetition of her name, some dissatisfaction with her course. It was, however, only the dissatisfaction of love, not of anger. He desired to have her there, where Mary was. He loved the sisters equally. He was not satisfied that Martha should be worrying in the kitchen and He should be losing her society. He did not undervalue care for his personal comfort. No man, sinner or saint, ever does. It was a token of her love substantially given. He must have uttered the

words tenderly, with the tone of love reproving love for putting itself to trouble. He did need food and a resting-place, but He also needed her company. And so, with a loving smile and a sweet look that pleaded His love against His words, He uttered this sentence that had in it more of warning than of reproof.

She was in peril. She was undertaking too much for her means. That was making her over-careful. She was becoming distracted and worried, anxious and troubled. She was losing her self-control. She was in danger of losing her whole enjoyment of that for which she was working. Now, no true man can see his friend, especially if that friend be a woman, making over-exertion for his comfort, and be unconcerned. Unless he be entirely selfish, he will interfere. So Jesus did, as soon as she opened the door and looked in.

Nor did the reply of Jesus imply that only one dish was necessary. That is an absurd interpretation of His words. Nor did it mean that

religion was that one thing. This is a mystical interpretation. The plain, common-sense meaning of this part of the reply is, that He required only one thing in His reception, namely, love of Him. Martha had that. All then that was

necessary was simply attention to His simple wants.

What he says of Mary is not so much complimentary as defensive. We must recollect that. It was not a volunteered statement. Martha knew that she loved Jesus, and believed that Mary did too, but thought that her sister had a very indifferent way of showing it: and Martha intimated as much. Jesus simply meant to defend Mary. He said, " Martha, you shall not take away Mary's share in this loving reception of me. She has chosen the part of goodness as well as you." The fact is that the reply of Jesus was a sweet speech to both the women, and both felt pleased and improved by it.

Mary had her danger. It was the danger of selfishness. She was leaving her work for her love. She should have helped her sister, and both sisters should have done only what was necessary, and then together spent what time they could in loving communion with the Lord. Martha's task had been lighter. Mary's enjoyment of Jesus had been greater. For Mary must have felt that Martha had reason for her playful reproach, and after her sister had left the room she could not have stayed comfortably with Jesus.

There is no record of what followed, but I have no doubt that when Martha shut the door behind her, Jesus intimated somehow to Mary that she should go to the help of Martha, for He saw that Mary's peril was in the direction of quietism, as Martha's was in the direction of worry.

The next view we have of this household is in John's twelfth chapter.


Lazarus lay dead in the house, and Jesus returned to Bethany on the third day after hearing of the death of his friend. As soon as Martha learned that Jesus was approaching, she went out to meet him. " But Mary sat still in the house," is John's characteristic description. The temperaments of these women are shown in the hour of their great bereavement. The younger subdued and still, the elder demonstrative and active. Martha remonstrated with Jesus for His absence, and kept up some argument with Him. Mary fell at His feet and wept, and repeated the first words of Martha, and no more. At the grave, Martha remonstrated against removing the stone ; Mary was silent. Mary's was a dependent nature. The Jews from Jerusalem " came to Mary," as the record says, showing that it was ^^r sorrow which drew them.

The last view we have of this household is at the Bethany feast, in the house of Simon the


19 A

Martha : Religion in Service.

leper, where Lazarus " sat at the table with Him," and Mary performed the graceful act of anointing Jesus, " and Martha served."

Here is the same contrast of excellencies. This completes the picture of the two sisters, and draws our attention strictly to the admirable Martha and to Religion in Service.

There tmist always be service.

No contrivances of society or of government can abrogate what is constituted by the necessities of human nature. To set all men and women free from service is a Utopian idea.

There is a certain amount of work to be done. There is a certain number of people to do it. If I fail to do my share, then that must go wholly undone and the world be the loser by my failure ; or else some one else must have my share of the labor added to his share, and thus be overtaxed ; or else it must be distributed among all the workers. But, the work must be do7ie. This is a fixed necessity.

The food must be gathered and prepared.

The shelter must be constructed.

These two departments are at the bottom of all things, as foundations, as the necessities of man's mere animal existence on the earth. Say nothing of enjoyment and progress and you must have something to eat and some shelter. In almost all parts of the world to these we must add clothing.

There are always helpless members of society, infants, invalids, idiots, and the superannuated :

so that each man must do more than will merely obtain food for himself and shelter for himself.

The very moment improvement is thought of you begin to increase the work to be done. If you are to have variety in your food and viands more savory, if you are to have comfort in your clothes and any little thing added for ornament, if your house is to be anything more than poles covered with brushwood, you increase the work to be done. And we must do all this.

It is exceedingly difficult to draw the distinction between "necessaries," as they are called, and "luxuries." We can, perhaps, say to an exact degree what will keep a man from dying, and that is the closest calculation of the " necessary." But then the question comes whether it is necessary for the race of mankind to be continued, if men are kept down in the low plane of mere animal existence. There is nothing useful, beautiful, or progressive in such a life. They might as well be swept from existence.


But the moment you give a man any more you make the man's necessities a sliding scale. Certain food in certain modes of preparation are

necessary to some people. A carpet on the floor, a picture on the wall, is necessary for some. As observation is extended and taste cultivated, other things become necessary, and you do not know where it is to stop. But it all makes work.

And yet, upon the part of most men there is a perpetual and natural effort to escape from service, and when the work plainly must be done each of us tries to get at the light end of the load. Men who can escape service rejoice, and are envied by those who cannot. The latter are very largely in the majority, and always mus< be.

Just fancy everything done, all the houses built and furnished, enough clothes ready made

to supply the world for a hundred years, and food, sweeter and better than anything fresh can be, prepared in such style as to keep for any number of years. What then ? Why, some one would have to light the candles at night and put them away in the day; some one would have to make up the beds in the morning and sweep the rooms ; some one would have to put the food on the table and clear it away. Each person would be compelled to serve himself and others, or let all the old and feeble perish, let all the amenities of life be forgotten, and let life itself shrink to lowest forms of mere animal selfishness.

Even Plato, in his fancied Republic, in which he provided for a community of property and of wives, when he came to classify the population, arranged them as magistrates, warriors, and laborers. There must be laboi'ers to sustain magistrates and warriors.

Let us then accept service as one of the conditions of human existence.

On some men and women the natural temperament lays the burden of service. They cannot be happy when they are not busy. That was plainly Martha's case. The circulation of her blood was too quick for a languid life. It kept her moving. Some women could sit down and see dust fall in layers on all the furniture, but Martha could not have rested if she had detected a closet- door ajar or a shred dependent from a chair. Such people must serve. " And Martha served."

Often it is the position in the household which devolves the serving. The woman is at once wife and mother, is responsible for all the in-door service, as the husband is for all the out-door work. She must do all that is required for the comfort of the family, or she must employ those who will do it, and she must superintend them-

Martha : Religion in Service.


When she falls ill or grows old, the eldest daughter often takes the work. She must serve. She must be daughter and wife_ to the father, sister and mother to the brothers. There is something quite trying, but very beautiful in the position of a dutiful eldest daughter. It is trying because it is a work beyond her years, beautiful to see one so young cheerfully accepting the burdens of more advanced life. Such a girl contrasts with a selfish daughter who allows the aged or the invalided mother to struggle on under her domestic burdens, and gives no help. And when the mother is taken and there are younger children, then the eldest daughter must serve. Such was probably Martha's case. " And Martha served."


Moreover, the doers of the beautiful depetid upon the doers of the serviceable.

This is said for the benefit of both parties. The remembrance of it will keep the doers of the beautiful in gratitude to the less conspicuous and less praised doers of the useful. The remembrance of it will cheer the workers in obscurity. And they need much to cheer them. The makers of beautiful things are open to criticism, but they are stimulated by praise, while the doers of the useful are sufferers from neglect.

Women largely form this class, especially those at the head of households. Woman's work is never done. Woman's work is generally obscure. Very few of us men stop to think how many wearying things a woman must perform simply to keep herself from being blamed. She has no praise if she does it all ; but if one thing be omitted it is noticed at once. We have the pleasure if she succeeds ; she has the blame if she fails.


A household is like a music-box. The little pegs set in the revolving barrel must be placed in just such a position; the tongues they strike must be of just such a length and thickness, and the spring which drives the barrel must be of just such an elasticity, or else the tune is not correctly played. So, in a house, everything must be there, and must fit into everything else.

Few things on earth are so beautiful as a wellordered household. Few people reflect how much those members of a family, who have nothing to do with housekeeping owe to those who do, — the father, the son, the brother, the visitor, to the wife, the mother, the sister, the hostess. If the man be a mechanic, who is due at the factory at a certain hour, he has his full sleep, because he knows that the watchful wife will have him up in time, and water and soap ready for him, and the clean shirt and the weil-

darned stockings and the nice breakfast. He

does his full day's work because of that, and because he knows that on his return everything will be in good order.

The apartments are small but neat. How easy it was to say that ! And how easy it seems to keep small apartments neat ! But how hard it is when one tries to do it ! Things will accumulate even in a poor man's house, and the wife does not know what to do with them. She cannot afford to throw away, as the rich would do, and she cannot find room for them. How it wears a nice woman ! And how it hurts her to know that her husband and children do not discover that she is doing anything in housekeeping until she has done something wrong. And how little men reflect on the general credit they enjoy because of the unheeded devotion of their wives and daughters to the details of keeping the house.

I was amused last week at a little domestic incident in the house of a clergyman, which house is in " apartments," as we say in New

York. He had missed something and was in search of it, and pushing with a man's carelessness from the sitting-room, where there were visitors, he left the intermediate door wide open. His wife rushed after htm, her face all aglow with affection and interest, and I heard her say, "My dear! it's the study of our lives to keep these doors shut !" I laughed till I cried at the earnestness of the good woman's tone and the intensity of the phrase, " the study of our lives," as applied to herself and daughters in connection with the matter of keeping doors shut ! But when I reflected how that wife had been raised, and how she was compelled to receive hosts of visitors and kinspeople used to better things, and that her husband's congregation allowed him just enough to live on and was in debt to him hundreds of dollars, and that she was, with her woman's pride, concealing the fact that two children were sleeping on a single bedstead in what was more of a closet than a room, and that all this was done that her husband might fulfill his noble mission, I felt that he and the public did not know how much they owed to her that

served. But for her economy and carefulness he must have abandoned his post.

And yet good women everywhere are suffering in their souls because they feel as if they were doing nothing for the world, because they are doing nothing that is conspicuous.

Sometimes ladies of my parish complain to me that their domestic duties are interfering with their religion. Really, my sisters, this is


Martha : Religion in Service.

simply absurd. If it be your duty, do it : nothing else at the moment can be your duty. If you

ought to cook or sev/, or scrub or dust, or anything else to make your home happy, then that is your religion. Do you think you would be pleasing God to lay aside your husband's garment, or your child's, to let them suffer, to let the child from its discomfort be unhappy and miss its school duties, to let your husband from his discomfort be unhappy and perhaps spoil his argument at the bar, his sermon in the pulpit, his diagnosis of a sick man's case, while you go to read your Bible ? I do not.

There can certainly be no objection to your studying art, science, literature, or even politics, after your home-work is done. Then you may become as brilliant as you can. But no poem, essay, painting, sculpture, or other conspicuous work by a woman can have any credit with God while the home duties are neglected. A woman's mission is to stay at home. If she is not strong-minded enough to do that, she is contemptibly weak. The most eloquent pleaders for woman's rights — which God grant they may obtain ! — are the women who stay at home and

there do woman's work.

It is the performers of the serviceable that make place and space for the performances that are beautiful.

How could Mary have had her pound of ointment of spikenard in her alabaster box if some one had not gathered the aromatic herb, and expressed its juices and compounded the ointment and made the flask and brought it to her for sale? Why did she find the money to buy it and the time to use it and the opportunity to pour it on the head of Jesus ? Because "Martha served." How could you famous painters make your pictures which make your fame but for the poor miner who digs your pigments from the ' earth and the unknown operative in the manufactory who prepares them for your palette ? How could you sculptors present your embodied beauties to the world if it were not for the laborer who takes the rough marble from the quarry and the servant who mixes the clay for your fine plastic work ?

And you, famous poet or essayist, how would you do your largely beautiful things if your servants did not mix the mash of the papervats and the black-lead of the printer's ink? Everywhere, in all departments, the conspicuous and lauded performers of acts of surpassing beauty, that give perpetual blessings to the world, are dependent on the work of those who serve.

Let those who are called to serve cheer themselves with this consideration also, that service may be continuous, while acts of lavish beautifulness can be only occasional.

Only once in her lifetime could Mary have the pleasure and the honor of condensing all her savings into a precious alabaster flask of ointment of spikenard and pouring it on the head of Jesus. But Martha could serve Him day and night all His life long. Her acts of devotion to Jesus were not such as to make it appropriate

that He should praise her before a company at a feast, but they were such as attached Him to her house and made Him show her such attention that His disciples and friends generally knew that He loved Martha. It was a blessed thing to give and to receive, that anointing at the Bethany supper : to give once, to receive once. Jesus, with exalted politeness, gave it the turn of being a preparatory anointing for His burial. But it was not a thing that it would have been possible to give daily, nor pleasant to have received daily. Mary's act was a contribution to the glory of Jesus, Martha's service was a perpetual contribution to His comfort.

And that is what He needed. A man who is much before the public, who has his nerves racked and his vitality exhausted by the incessant demands of others, knows how grateful are quiet and the appliances of physical comfort. Even princes could not endure perpetual fetes and coronation-days. They must have retreats where they can unbend and sleep and rest. A woman's hand must have been there or else

no place has the requisite softness.

We may be sure of this that if there had been no Martha in that house Jesus would sometimes have called to see the lovely Mary, but He would not have stayed there long. It was Martha's persistent and admirable housewifery that made everything so comfortable in the house of Lazarus as to constitute it the favorite resort of Jesus. It is delicious to be anointed as Jesus was, but one could not live on the ointment of spikenard. It was Martha's breakfast that strengthened the dear Lord to go back into the fight in the Temple. It was Martha's suppers that revived His bodily strength when He came home tired and fretted and worn. It was the good bed and fresh ijed-linen prepared by Martha that were balm to his ach'ng limbs.

" And Martha served." John records that as if to make us certain that this Bethany supper was a good one. If her hands were put to it the entertainment would be complete.


Finally, let those whose religion is in service be cheered by this consideration that //le example of service stirs to the doing ef the beautiful.

Day and night Martha had been doing something that ministered to the comfort of Jesus, and He had exhibited in His manner how greatly He appreciated it. No doubt that in the morning He often told her of the comfort He had had in her guest-chamber the over night. No doubt He often praised her good dishes. For Jesus was most observant of little things. Nothing escaped His attention. He was not such a man that He never opened his lips except to speak of His solemn mission. He must have talked often and long of domestic matters in the house in which He was staying. It would have been frightful to have had Him in any home if He had sat for hours speechless under the brooding horror of His approaching death.

It is probable that it occurred to the mind of the good Mary that her sister was doing so much

for Jesus and she so little. Perhaps she felt that Jesus would not be so frequent a guest at the house if she were there alone, simply sitting at His feet. She would not take away the crown of Martha, but she would have some glory of making visible proof of her love. Probably she did not have much natural talent for cooking and general housekeeping. Alas ! some women have not ! But she did have taste. She was fond of perfumes. She could do something. It should not be said that hers was a mere dreamy love, an unflowering and unfruitful plant. She would do something. It should be something which would demonstrate her love beyond all doubt. She would take her prized spikenard and pour it all on Jesus. But it was Martha's example that stimulated her to this.

Sometimes a rich man does a great thing for the cause of Jesus. It comes once, and large and noticeable, like the flower of the centuryplant. Men are at a loss to divine his reason for this special act upon this special occasion. They conjecture almost every other possible motive,

good and bad, except perhaps this which I am about to name. He may have had in his employ for very many years one who also was the servant of Jesus. He may have watched this humble Christian doing all he could in his simple way and with his slender means for his heavenly Lord while faithful to his earthly master. And that master may have at last felt that he must do something for The Christ: and he did it all at once, like Mary with her spikenard.

And now, my dear friends, we have set before us these two sisters, the representatives of reli-

gion in the beautiful and religion in the serviceable.

Let us recall the fact tjiat never is one mentioned without the other. Jesus said that wherever the gospel was preached what Mary had done should be reported as a memorial of her.

But we notice that their devoted mutual friend, John the Evangelist, has taken good care that it should be quite as true of Martha.

Let us also remember that it is put of record that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus," and that Martha is named first. " 'Tis first the good and then the beautiful."

Let us also remember that these different modes of love's exhibition have no antagonism. They are sisters. How beautiful they are in one family ! How needful Martha is to Mary, how ornamental Mary is to Martha. Martha is the refreshing and fructifying rain-cloud: Mary is the beautiful rainbow. Mary is love's blossoms : Martha is love's fruitage. Martha clung to the divine humanity of Jesus, Mary to the human divinity of Christ. "Mary is love at its worship, and Martha is love at its work. Both are precious to Jesus. He praises Mary because she needs a defence in a world given to practicalities. He praises Martha privately because He must praise her so often ; and secures her immor31

tality, because He will not let the smoothing of a pillow for Him go without its reward.

And now, dear brethren, who shall represent Martha, and who Mary, in our church ? You must have the beauty of usefulness, or at least yield the uses of beauty to the world. Which shall it be in each of you ? But reflect that no life is so great as that which unites both these characteristics. To do good constantly in an earnest serviceable way, and to clothe the strong act with the graceful folds of the drapery of the beautiful, — this is to have a complete life. Your usefulness need not be unbeautiful. It is a mistake to suppose that the gracefulness of the diction detracts from the clearness of the thought or the power of the reasoning. Roughness is not strength any more than smoothness is beauty. One need not be rude of manners to be an effective worker in any department.

But, beloved, be assured of this, that if you and I love our Lord Jesus Christ really and truly, as Martha did, and as Mary did, our love

will make itself known as best suits our temperament, it will come out in Mary's spikenard or in Martha's serving, and that whichever way it makes its appearance our Lord will approve it and will give it immortality.

May Jesus Christ our Lord accept and consecrate our spikenard and our service.

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