Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Martha, Martha, Martha!

Today is the feast of a popular saint - St. Martha. She was a friend of Jesus, whom He would visit when He was going to Jerusalem, and her sister, Mary, and bother Lazarus were also very close to the Lord.

Often, Martha is used as an example of the active life of the Christian, in contrast to her sister Mary, who is an example of the contemplative life. In one gospel account, Jesus chides Martha for being "concerned with many things" while only "one thing is necessary." "Mary," Jesus says, "has chosen the better part."

After that episode, many of us wish we could be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him intently, lovingly. We might shake our heads at the worrisome Martha who puts housekeeping above time with Jesus. However, Martha cannot be ignored. We must be careful about judging folks in the gospels too quickly and harshly - after all, we only really get "snapshots" of their lives, don't we? It would be like my opening your Facebook page, seeing a photo of a college party you regret, and deciding everything about you based on that.

Fortunately for Martha (and us!), we get another look at her. Later, and in John's Gospel, we encounter Martha after the death of her brother. Jesus, who has dallied, apparently, in coming to visit is now arriving at Bethany. Martha is the one who goes to Him (Mary stays at home, perhaps too grief-stricken).  Martha is the one who meets Jesus as He arrives and receives Him with a dig of her own: "If you had been here my brother would not have died." A very human response from Martha.  Jesus does not contradict her or say that Lazarus might have died anyway; rather, He uses the moment to remind Martha of her faith - which, by the way, she is quick to acknowledge: "I know he will rise."

Martha is a woman of deep faith; she is a woman of great trust in the Lord. She is not "concerned with many things" here. "Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." And, in response to Jesus assertion that He is the resurrection and the life, when He asks her, "Do you believe this?" Martha not only responds yes, but she makes an astounding assertion of faith that is rare in John's Gospel (and in all of them, really). She acknowledges Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is to come into the world."

Martha might be busy, but that doesn't make her wrong. She is busy with the right stuff - she is serving Jesus in His Body and in His Body the Church. This is a lesson to us. Prayer is needed - it is the "better part," in fact. However, action on behalf of Jesus is also part of our faith. God bless Martha in her faith! And God bless us through St. Martha!

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