Most sermons and devotionals on the topic of Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary of Bethany in the Bible tend to pit the two sisters against each other. A common question for the listener or reader is: “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” And depending on how the person leads, you will bend toward one or the other with Mary usually winning. After all, Jesus said she chose better, so that must mean Martha made the wrong choices.
Amy Boucher Pye in her latest book, “Transforming Love: How Friendship with Jesus Changes Us” looks at each sibling anew as she explores Jesus’ close friendship with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. She shows how God uses our relationships with others and with Jesus to shape us as individuals. In this book, Amy hopes that the reader will want to meet with Jesus as a dear friend, just as the siblings did. She would like us to learn how to receive His love and let it transform us within and without.
Amy presents this story of “transforming love” in three parts:
Part 1 Being and Doing: The Luke 10 Story,
Part 2 Grieving and Rejoicing: The John 11 Story, and
Part 3 Loving and Serving: The John 12 Story.
Part 1 focuses on how we often define ourselves by our work — by what we do or produce — instead of resting in how God defines us. Are we trying to prove we’re worth God’s attention? As Christians, we need to rest in our identity as His children. No “people-pleasing” is needed. This first part delves in the Luke 10 story – the famous, or infamous, “Martha vs. Mary” passage I mentioned earlier. Verses 40-42 are as follows:
“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Amy points to the writing choices Luke made when he wrote this account. She said commentators believe Lazarus had a physical disability, which could explain why Jesus and the disciples come to them. Amy notes some countercultural details as well. Martha is the head of the family. Luke mentions first. Her name means “owner” and “master.” She takes on the brunt of hosting and preparing for guests, even going so far as to do the work their manservant would do. She has little time to prepare. Amy said it’s not like Jesus sent a text to Martha that He and the disciple are on their way. (LOL So true.)
When Amy turns to Mary at Jesus’ feet, she notices the countercultural features in Luke’s account. Women did not learn at the feet of a teacher; in fact, women weren’t even to touch the Torah, she said. And yet, the Bible shows many women disciples throughout scripture. Here, Amy says we need to reconsider Mary’s choice. She probably knew she should help her sister, but she wanted to listen to Jesus more. She may have thought she “shouldn’t” learn with the men, but she chose to learn alongside them despite that.
Jesus defends Mary while teaching Martha “a better way,” Amy says. When scripture repeats a word, she says it means we need to pay attention. Jesus says Martha’s name twice. He tells her that she worries about many things and only one is important. The one thing Mary chose is to be with Jesus. That’s not to say Martha should not use that gift of hospitality she has, but here she took on more than was needed. She needs some balance in her life, something Amy shows Martha learned in Part 3.
Amy covers the topic of “waiting for Jesus” in part 2, as she picks up the second account of Martha and Mary. Their brother Lazarus became deathly ill. Martha wrote Jesus, but she didn’t demand anything of Him. Just Him knowing was enough. Amy said she had to know the risk of drawing Jesus to return to a place where He avoided stoning before. Jesus waits instead of rushing, and this waiting is important. Lazarus dies before Jesus and disciples return. Amy said that Jews believed when someone died, the soul hovered for three days. Lazarus had been dead and buried four. (I appreciated Amy’s note here that Lazarus wasn’t “mostly dead,” like Westley from “Princess Bride.” He was for sure dead.)
Both sisters would say the same thing to Jesus upon His arrival. Lazarus wouldn’t have died had He been there. When Martha meets Jesus, she shows a deep faith that abides in hope. She trusts God will give Jesus what He asks, but again she doesn’t make demands, Amy says. They talk about who Jesus really is — the Messiah. She knows about the resurrection of the dead in the future. Now, Jesus expands her faith when he tells her “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).
Mary runs to meet Jesus when Martha tells her that He has asked for her. The Jews who have gathered in mourning for Lazarus follow her. She falls at His feet in tears, and Jesus weeps as well, moved by her grief as well as that of the mourners. The people see how much He loved Lazarus, and they soon become witnesses to the last miracle before Jesus’ own death on the cross. He calls for the stone to be rolled away in front of Lazarus’ tomb. First, Jesus prays so everyone can hear Him speaking to His Father and thanking Him in advance for bringing this dead man back to life. He cried out, “Come out, Lazarus.” And Lazarus, still wrapped in grave clothes, arose from the grave, and walked out of the tomb.
Amy here shares an awe-inspiring insight about how specific Jesus needed to be with His request: “Come out, Lazarus.” Jesus is the resurrection and the life, so if He had not been specific, more than one dead man would have risen that day. Can you picture that? Amy said the death of Lazarus represents those who are dead in their sins before conversion, while the risen Lazarus is how we are after accepting salvation through Jesus Christ. We are a new creation.
In Part 3, we are invited to a celebration with this family after Lazarus’ return from the grave. Lazarus leans on Jesus and Martha serves. Mary brings out a pint of pure nard that she opens and pours on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair in a beautiful display of love and devotion. Judas Iscariot would chastise this extravagance, saying that the perfume could have brought in a year’s wages. John makes sure to point out the greed of Judas, Amy says, and how that disciple would take for himself some of the money collected.
Besides showing great love for Jesus, Mary also shows an understanding of who He is, His mission, and what is to come. Remember, Amy says, she’s listened all this time to Jesus. Jesus says in John 12: 7-8,
“‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’”
I enjoyed this closer look at the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ friendship with Jesus. Amy provides personal stories alongside each theme she develops as she features these three accounts in scripture. I liked the variety of commentaries Amy researched. She seamlessly weaves them into her discussion with whether these folks live today or as far back as the 4th century. Some were familiar names and others were new, such as Peter Chrysologus (Peter the Golden-Worded); Bishop Gregory the Great; Athanasius and Augustine; Thomas a’ Kempis; St. John of the Cross; Martin Luther; the Victorian English minister Joseph Parker; Charles Spurgeon, and others. She also provides prayer starters and ways for the reader to personally connect with the material and scriptures during their alone time with God.
The only area I thought Amy could have cut was the exercise using Psalm 23. She shows how to rework the passage and pulls from the themes covered in each chapter’s lesson. I saw the notation in the back that she learned this technique elsewhere. You might enjoy this exercise. Her results did grow on me, but at the same time, I didn’t understand the relevance of going back over Psalm 23 and rewriting it. She also had these other exercises that I felt related more with the material.
You can choose to use her book for an individual study, or you can use this book to lead a Bible study group. Amy provides questions to guide you at the end of each chapter, and a guide for class leaders at the end to help you conduct each of the 8 sessions. Plenty of endnotes also are in back for further reading and study alongside this work.
Thank you to Netgalley.com and Our Daily Bread Publishing for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of Amy’s latest book, “Transforming Love: How Friendship with Jesus Changes Us.” You may preorder this book on Amazon here or through Christianbook.com.
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