I grew up with a sister that was ten years older than me and our only other sibling was our brother who was in-between us chronologically. She was the smartest woman, the first to go to college in our family, and the first to earn a nursing degree. She worked hard in her studies and she succeeded in her dream of becoming a registered nurse, a dream she had since she was five years old. She also left big shoes to fill for my brother and me. My brother never went to college and I did, but didn’t graduate until after my sister had died. I know that she would have been proud of me, but she would have teased me too. She probably would have said something like, “So you finally passed!”
Having a sister is a special gift from God. In my own family my daughters have always had a good relationship with each other. They learned early on to lean upon each other probably because we were a military family that moved constantly. While their neighborhoods were ever-changing they had each other as playmates, sparring partners, protectors, emotional support, and most importantly advice seekers. I leaned on them as well especially when they hit the algebra stage and I couldn’t help them any longer doing math. Math is not my favorite subject! Each sister helped the younger one until they all finished high school and graduated from college. What a blessing they have been to each other, even now, in adulthood.
The sister relationship is truly special, whether you are five years old or fifty years old or even eighty years old. Your sister will always know you best, remember your worst moments, and not be afraid to tell them, keep you humble, and build you up when you are going through the fire of life. One of my favorite stories from the Bible involves the relationship of sisters…you guessed it! The story of Mary and Martha has been an inspiration for generations because it shows how two opposites in personality loved each other, supported each other, and were close friend of Jesus our Lord.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42, (New American Standard Bible 1977 or NASB 1977).
You need to remember that there were no hotels or motels in Jesus’s time on earth. It was the custom to stay with friends or friends of friends, or even perfect strangers. So Jesus and the disciples traveling with Him are walking on a road that led to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’s village. Martha was the one who called to them and invited them to stay at her family home for the night. I can see that Martha had a compassionate heart and was a hospitable woman. I can also surmise that she was outgoing and friendly. I mean a grouch wouldn’t be at the edge of town looking for travelers to come spend the night would they? She probably had a habit of inviting strangers home to rest and refresh them with a good meal and a safe place to sleep. I don’t believe this was her first invitation. She may have also heard that Jesus was coming near her village and perhaps was looking for Him because she was curious and wanted to know more about this Rabbi who taught of love and kindness and caring for others. Whatever her reasons, she met Jesus and those traveling with Him and invited them to come eat and be refreshed in her home.
Martha was a doer, a busy woman, capable in entertaining for a group. Mary, on the other hand, was not all that much like her sister. She was a thinker. She wasn’t standing out in the hot sun waiting for weary travelers; she was inside doing inside things. She wasn’t the extrovert social butterfly like her sister Martha, rather she was the introvert homebody, or so that is how I perceive her. Mary was seated at Jesus’s feet listening intently to every word spoken. She obviously found this Rabbi so interesting that she forgot all about the physical needs such as washing their feet or cooking a meal for Jesus and the disciples. That is why I believe she was a thinker and not a doer. Thinkers like to listen and learn rather than hop around doing the necessities of cooking and serving.
Typical sister behavior, where one is good the other is not good and so they don’t compete with each others talents. Yet each does have talents to be useful. Martha, however, was not having all the work dumped upon her shoulders. After all, Martha being the take-charge sister, probably the older sister, had a ton of work to get done and she needed and expected and counted on her little sister to share the burden. Only little sister Mary was not even aware of the need, rather she was tuned into the theology lessons being discussed, probably taking mental notes to cherish and think over for days and weeks to come. A storm is brewing in sisterville!
So was Jesus impressed with the meal, the candles, the silver plates, and the fine dinnerware? Or was Jesus more interested in Mary learning what He came to share with her family? Of course we all know the answer to that. Jesus basically told Martha to slow down and smell the roses. He also said to leave Mary alone because Mary was learning and thinking and that was so much more important than cooking for a bunch of men!
How many of us are like Martha? I can see myself in her. Being so busy going about life and doing good for others and rearing my family I was much more like Martha than like Mary. I was tired too and felt overburdened just like Martha must have felt. Worry was a number one priority in those days and bothered was number two! I spent hours worrying about this or that and felt bothered if someone asked me to do something more. I can certainly identify with Martha. The hostess in me always worked hard to make each guest feel special and cared about. I can remember spending hours standing in the kitchen preparing a meal for a group of friends and making certain all the silver was polished and the crystal shining. I remember the work but I don’t really remember what the prevailing conversation was of the evening. Yes, I can identify with Martha.
As I get older, though, I can also identify with Mary. I love to hear interesting conversations. I love to study and learn about not only the Bible and theology but also politics and the happenings in our world. I can be a sponge when it comes to learning especially now that I am single and with only one child still at home. I have time to think, to ponder, to study, and to learn. Yes, I can identify with Mary too.
These two women remind me of how most sister relationships operate. One sister is a go-getter and the other is a thinker. One sister sees to the needs of others and probably gets very tired in the process while the other sees to emotional needs and doesn’t care to know how to cook. If they were living today I would see one as a homemaker and the other as a career woman. Yet they obviously loved each other and their brother very much.
My sister was the career woman and I was the homemaker. In my opinion my sister was not a very good cook; she just went to the store, bought a bunch of stuff and threw it together. I, on the other hand, carefully planned each dish and tried to make it not only delicious but also attractive. My sister was not a good housekeeper either but I have always striven to be a good housekeeper. My sister however was a career woman and she was a super good nurse. When she passed away a few years ago there were many people who came and told me what a caring, compassionate, and giving nurse she was. I so appreciated that insight to her life.
We need both types of women in our lives. We need the Martha’s who keep us organized and on our toes. But we need the Mary’s too to teach us how to relax, how to slow down, how to study God’s word, and how to apply it to our lives. So tell me, which sister are you most like?