Most are familiar with the story of Lazarus, raised from the dead after four days by Jesus. Lazarus and his sisters were good friends with Jesus. Jesus in part brought Lazarus back from the dead because of His love for him. What is not understood by most is that Jesus also revived Lazarus because of His compassion for Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary.
(It’s important to note that Lazarus was revived and remained mortal. He died again later. He was not resurrected to eternal life like Jesus was,)
This story takes on much deeper meaning when we understand it in the context of the culture of the times. In Jewish culture, women held very few rights. They could not own property in their own names or hold jobs outside of the household and were generally dependent on male family members for their survival. Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived, was an Ascetic village. Ascetics took vows of chastity and generally did not marry. Martha and Mary had no male relatives other than Lazarus and were completely dependent on him for their survival. Upon his death the sisters had two options… begging or prostitution. Their futures looked very bleak.
By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus not only brought back His friend, but also restored a future of hope and prosperity for Martha and Mary.
Shalom, Art Alive in The Word
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I’m looking forward to following your series. 🙂
I’m quite excited about what I’ve learnt, Art, and have just written my own piece on Martha and Mary. http://newlife.id.au/christian-living/martha-mary-and-lazarus-of-bethany/
Thanks for the link, Margaret. You’ve written a well researched and comprehensive. The women you mentioned played extremely important roles in Jesus’ life and ministry or in the ministry of Paul. They player instrumental roles in the birth and spread of Christianity. From a Biblical perspective, those who think women were relegated to secondary roles are quite mistaken. I’ve just started a series of blogs entitled “Women of the Bible” to show the many important contributions made by women.
I attempted to leave this response on your blog, but was unable.
Alive in The Word
Art, Thank you for this. I have learnt some interesting things. After reading your post and looking at other resources I can now see that Martha, Mary and Lazarus were probably ascetics. This would certainly explain why they seem to be unmarried.
You are very welcome.
Martha and Mary of Bethany seem to have been very wealthy. The house they lived in was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his entourage. Moreover the house is described as being Martha’s (Luke 10:38). Mary owned perfume of pure nard that cost a year’s wages which she lovingly poured on Jesus’ feet (John 12:3). So I don’t think the women were overly concerned about finances.
According to the Mishnah could inherit property and wealth in New Testament times. (And they had dowries.) Several NT women are mentioned as mistresses of their own homes. Apart from Martha there is Lydia and Nympha, and possibly Chloe and John Mark’s mother.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were probably all teenagers. They seem to have been orphaned and unmarried. There is no mention of parents, husbands or children of Martha or Mary. Women typically married before they were 16 in those days. According to the Mishnah, 13 and a half was considered an optimum age for girls to be married. I imagine Martha was about 16-17, Mary was about 13-14 and Lazarus was about 10-12. These are just guesses of course.
Because of his relative young age, Lazarus’ death was a tragedy. And yes, Lazarus would be able to provide for the women when he was older if the need was there. But women, could also work. For instance, Priscilla, a Jewess, was a tentmaker with her husband. And Lydia was a wealthy business woman dealing with purple fabric.
Thank you for your visit and comment.
While there were exceptions, in Judah property was generally owned by males in the household. The rights of inheritance went to the sons or nearest male relative.
The village of Bethany, located only a few miles from Jerusalem, was an Ascetic village. This Jewish sect took vows of chastity, so they did not marry. That option was out for the sisters. Since all three in the family has been long term friends and supporters of Jesus, they were probably much older than you suggest.
Mosaic Law called for the care of widows and orphans, for the marriage of a widow to her deceased husband’s relative and inheritance of property by sons. None of these worked in the favor of Martha and Mary.
Pricilla and Lydia were indeed Jewish women. However, they did not reside in Judah. As products of the diaspora, they had adopted customs of the cultures where they resided, cultures which allowed women to own property in their own names and to work outside the home.
The New Testament did not begin with the birth of Jesus. The seeds were planted during His ministry.
Context, time and place, are very important when understanding the nuances of scripture.
Again, thanks for the comment.
Alive in The Word
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Jesus knew everything because He is God. The event happened because he wanted people to see that he has power even over the death.
Jesus did not care about poverty or lack of resources, he cared about the gospel and the people to believe he is God.
Jesus cared about people. His message, often repeated and even commanded, was to love. The pagan gods (i.e. Zeus/Jupiter) wanted people to recognize their power and that they we gods above all humans. From the beginning, God (the Holy Trinity) desired relationships.
ohhh you mean BEFORE He raised Lazarus, right? Because “He let him die”
why were they angry?
Yes, before Lazarus was raised. They were angry because, by allowing Lazarus to die. the sisters were placed in a situation of poverty. Without a male family member they would lose their home and any means of support. Denied marriage because of their religious beliefs, Martha and Mary would have had to resort to either begging or prostitution to survive.
Thanks for the visit and question.
Alive in The Word