Martha's legacy is not much more favorable than the legacy of Thomas. While she loved Jesus and served him diligently, she had the good fortune of being a sister to a passionate, emotional lover of people. Her warm, heart-on-her-sleeve sister, Mary, stole the show. While Martha worked hard for Jesus, Mary sat at his feet. Mary's legacy is that her name will be remembered wherever the gospel is preached (Mt. 26:13). Martha's legacy, however, is to be remembered as uptight and lacking in an appropriate focus on Jesus.
I've always accepted these standard portrayals of Thomas and Martha. It hasn't been until recently that I really began to question their legacies. Mostly, I began to empathize with Thomas. Not only did Thomas's doubt seem to be brought out because of his unique circumstance, but none of the other disciples had shown themselves to be all that faithful or understanding through the gospels. Thomas was not much different than any of the others. The other disciples likely only believed because they had the opportunity to see first hand. On top of this, comparing Thomas to a disciple like foot-in-his-mouth betrayer Peter seemed unfair. Peter repented and became great. We call Peter the "Rock," not the "Traitor." Thomas believed and we still call him a doubter.
Recently, I was reading through John 11 and my mind latched onto a different account of both Thomas and Martha. In John 11, we see the disciples beg Jesus not to visit Lazarus because they knew it would lead to his death. The Pharisees had just tried to stone Jesus, and returning was suicide. But Jesus was set on going. In John 11:16, it is Thomas who tells the others that they should go with Jesus, even unto their death. Jesus would not die alone. Now I could imagine this being a passive aggressive sort of comment and I don't know how the whole conversation all played out. But seeing this in light of John 14:5, it seems that Thomas shows concern for Christ and a desire to pursue him wherever he goes. Regardless, Thomas knew that going with Jesus meant death, yet he went with him and advocated for the others to do the same.
Later in John 11, we see Martha come out to greet Jesus while Mary remains at home mourning her brother, Lazarus. Martha greets Jesus and says she believes he is the Christ and knows that he can do anything. She believes in the resurrection and that she will see her brother again. But when Mary comes, her tone - as much as I can tell from the text - seems more accusatory. She believes Jesus could have saved Lazarus, but she makes no mention of his power to do anything about the situation now, or any acknowledgment of his messianic role. She does bow before him, but her demeanor seems quite different from Martha's.
The text obviously leaves us asking many questions about the tone of the individuals, the surrounding circumstances, and their hearts. However, we do get a little glimpse of the faith, trust, and love that both Thomas and Martha have for Jesus, at a time when others seem to be more hesitant or wavering. John 11 was the final piece that made me rethink how I view legacies.
First, it taught me that the legacy for which someone is remembered is never the whole picture. There is always more to a person than one moment or one choice. My empathy for others has grown tremendously in this regard over the past few years, and I remember the day my arrogance crumbled (though I often attempt to reconstruct it). A few years after college I heard that my former RA had murdered someone. I knew my friend was a Christian, I knew he was friendly, and I knew he would never kill someone in cold blood. But he did. I had to search online for the news story to believe it. But what really hit me were all the comments I saw below the news story.
"This piece of scum needs to die."
"This guy should rot in hell."
The individuals making these comments didn't know my friend, but they saw this one act that he performed. Certainly their judgment about him was right - he deserves death and hell. But I knew something they didn't. My friend was no different than me - save for the outworking of this one act. If my friend could kill, I could kill. And even though my friend murdered someone, it didn't warrant the end of my love for him. It was the first time in my life I truly recognized the tension between desiring justice and mercy, and the first time I truly understood "but by the grace of God there go I."
My friend will forever be defined by those who he meets as a killer. But those who knew him before know him as brother, son, helper, comedian, and friend. When we fail to look at the whole picture of someone's life and feel all the tension that arises as we uncover both good and bad - we create gods and demons. We create gods who are so high above us that we can never make such lofty choices, or demons who are so far below us we can never fall to their level. To latch onto legacy is to incapacitate us spiritually. It prevents us from attacking unto the good and fighting the good fight to become like those we call saints. But it also prevents us from bolstering our defenses against the evil which, unbeknownst to us, resides within the very walls of our souls, just waiting. But by the grace of God, there go I. Like my friend, Thomas and Martha both had complex lives and interactions with others outside of that for which they are known.
The second thing I learned from Thomas and Martha was that while I strive for consistency and integrity, one misstep could become my defining moment. It doesn't matter if people know you, what matters in regard to your legacy is how people perceive you. One action that is significant (e.g. murder) or poorly timed (e.g. at the end of your career or life), the more likely it will overshadow your whole legacy. Such is the case with Thomas and Martha. Martha had faith in Jesus and Thomas traveled what was perhaps the farthest of the disciples for the advancement of the gospel - dying in India (some traditions say martyred for the gospel). Yet one questionable instance overshadows the legacy of both of these faithful servants.
In the end, I hope to have a good legacy. I hope my life is consistent enough to warrant praise, and I hope not to fall so far or at just the wrong moment to be remembered poorly. But while the lesson I've learned from John 11 does impact how I think about leaving my own legacy, it primarily informs me on how to go about viewing the legacies of others. It is vital that as we uphold the praise of the heroes of the faith and the heroes of our world, we show grace to the fallen and temper the legacies of the elevated with a good dose of reality. I don't think such a thing is unbiblical. In fact, the Bible is filled with the true tellings of the Saints - the stories of successful failures whose triumph is only due to God's hand. So to end, I leave you with a list of some of the heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, and some of their not so glorious moments:
Noah - Got drunk and cursed his son
Abraham- Lied about Sarah not being his wife, slept with his maid in order to fulfill what he thought should be God's plan, lied about his wife again, then kicked out his maid and son into the desert
Sarah- Laughed at God for saying he'd give her a son
Isaac- Showed favoritism to his one son and created family disunity
Jacob - Swindled his brother and showed favoritism to his son Joseph which tore the family apart, treated Leah less than the favored wife Rachel
Joseph- Flaunted his favored status to his brothers
Moses- Murderer, disobeyed God
Israelites- Rebelled against Moses and God
Gideon- Worshiped false gods after God gave him great victory
Samson- Sexually and spiritually promiscuous, arrogant
Jephtah- Sacrificed his own daughter
David- Murderer and adulterer
Samuel- Weak father who failed to reprimand his wicked sons