Bible study · Book review · Christian Living · Christianity · Devotionals · Things I'm Learning · Uncategorized

A Fresh Take on Jesus’ Close Friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

On May, 2, 2023, Amy Boucher Pye published a study where she provides a fresh take on the story of Jesus’ close friendships with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus in “Transforming Love: How Friendship with Jesus Changes Us.” 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” needed. This first part delves in the Luke 10 story – the famous “Martha vs. Mary” passage I mentioned earlier.

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 of the Bible’s 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. (I loved that humorous observation.)

When Amy turns to Mary at Jesus’ feet, she notices the countercultural features. Women did not learn at the feet of a teacher – women weren’t even to touch the Torah – 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 escaped stoning before. Jesus waits instead of rushing, and this waiting is important. Lazarus dies before Jesus and the disciples return. Jews believed when someone died, the soul hovered for three days, Amy noted, and Lazarus had been dead and buried for four. (I appreciated Amy’s note here that Lazarus wasn’t “mostly dead,” like Westley from “Princess Bride.”)

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 said. They talk about who Jesus really is. 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.”

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 eye-opening 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 said, 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.

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. She sprinkles humor throughout as well. I liked the variety of commentaries Amy researched. She seamlessly weaves them into her discussion with present Bible scholars and those as far back as the 4th century. 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 from someone. 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. I did think she had these other exercises that related more with the material.

You can choose to use Amy’s book for an individual study or for leading 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. You can order “Transforming Love” here and here. Another great study from a popular “Our Daily Bread” contributor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.