As I look back on my life in the church, I am increasingly aware of the influence that women have in their congregations. I am the daughter of an LCMS pastor, and during my childhood, I knew many of the church people who came to our parsonage on Saturday nights to announce for communion the next day. When Ruth G. came to the house, I would hide! Ruth G. usually had a scowl on her face. Nobody messed with Ruth G., including the men. I once overheard my dad say, “Ruth G. runs this church!” Dad readily admitted that if he needed to have something done, he would ask Ruth G. to handle it, and it got done! I was confused, because I knew that women could not even vote in our congregation. I knew that Ruth G. did not hold any leadership positions in our congregation. She ran the church kitchen. I think that the men might have been as afraid of Ruth G. as I was, but they certainly appreciated her cooking!
I wonder if Martha of Bethany had the same temperament as Ruth G. In the “Mary and Martha” story, Martha questioned Jesus as to why Mary was allowed to sit at His feet instead of helping Martha serve. Martha certainly wasn’t happy about doing so much of the work alone, and I suspect that everybody stayed clear of Martha when she was serving. Martha said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40- 41).
Martha has been portrayed as the bad character in this story due to her questioning and bossy attitude. However, if she hadn’t asked that “tough question” of Jesus, we would not have learned of his reply, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” That one sentence from Jesus is monumental for women’s lives. In the Jewish culture of that day, women did not sit at the feet of anybody and learn. The boys sat at the feet of the learned men, and the girls handled the menial tasks of serving. Women were not educated in the Jewish world, but this statement by Jesus certainly changed the educational opportunities and possibilities for women. We would not have received this lesson from Jesus if Martha hadn’t asked the “tough question.” That’s leadership!
This isn’t the only time that Martha asked Jesus a “tough question.” When Lazarus died, Martha was in mourning. However, when she heard that Jesus was coming, she ran down the road to meet Him. Once again, she challenged Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11: 21-22). The result is the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Martha certainly appears to be a “pushy woman.” Her audacity in questioning Jesus is astounding, especially for a woman during that historical time. In the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus set Martha straight. However, in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus answered Martha’s plea.
At a previous LCMS convention, I happened to be sitting next to a former district president. I had no idea who he was, but I shared that I was the Director of the Women’s Leadership Institute. He responded very positively. He told me that in his tenure as district president, he greatly appreciated working with women, especially when he was called into congregations that were having internal problems. He said that the women were the ones who asked the “tough questions” that needed to be asked in order to confront the problems and seek solutions.
Today, we face new problems and challenges in our church and culture. Many organized religions (including the LCMS) are declining in membership, and the number of atheists has doubled in this country during the last ten years. The median age of LCMS members is in the mid 50’s. It is time for Christian women to use their influence to affect how others think, act, and develop by asking the “tough questions” in our churches and communities. These questions need to be asked in order to face these problems and challenges and to seek solutions. We live in a dying world that needs the words of salvation, and Christian woman have an eternal life-saving message to share. Seize your “Martha Moments” for such a time as this!