Martha et Labora

Poor St. Martha. Martha, with her straight-forward statements and down-to-business attitude, can come off as busy, bossy, overworked, and accusatory. How many people (repeatedly) inform Jesus that his other disciples aren’t bearing their load? Martha does: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me (Luke 10: 40).” Who can tell the Lord, to his face, that he hasn’t done enough? Martha does: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11: 21).”

Maybe Martha is busy, even bossy. But, Martha is my spiritual hero. For me, Martha is a model of efficiency and hard work, loyal friendship, and amazing faith. Her closeness with Jesus, even if she does has an attitude, is something to be admired, not admonished. Her role in the Gospel of John is particularly striking. In the series of intensifying miracles portrayed in John, the miracle in which Martha participates becomes a capstone: Jesus destroys death, raising a man from the dead. In her dialogue of faith with Jesus, not only does Martha tell Jesus he could have saved her brother from death yesterday, but that he could do so now, or in the future. Martha tells Jesus to his face, in her usual straight-forward speech: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world (John 11: 27).”

Martha is worried about many things. But, Martha, loyal, loving, and hardworking, teaches us that the Christian life places both prayer and work at the feet of Jesus.

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5 comments

  1. She may have a ‘tude but without the Marthas in any parish or Charitable organization, you just have a lot of meetings. I too find her to be a welcome hero who does not run out the door when the question gets asked “can someone help put away the chairs?”

  2. I agree. When my mother died last October, we chose the pericope from John 11 for her funeral Mass because Martha was such a model for my mother. And we told this to the parochial bereavement team, of course.

    The story of Martha and Mary gets more complex when you pair Luke 10 together with John 11. Because the Martha that seems to get someone put down by Jesus in Luke is the Martha who gives the most complex and layered profession of faith in Jesus of all of his disciples before the Resurrection. And, understand, she’s not going to take No for an answer. My mother accepted much, but she wrestled with God in Martha’s manner.

    It’s, well, “interesting” that Martha’s emphatic profession of faith is typically not noticed as such. I hope we learn to stop not noticing.

    Oh, and give much attention to two key words in John 11: “Even now…”

    Preachers could preach myriad homilies on those two words, if they were fearless in being with the faithful in the darkness of their lives.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      I think Suzanne Toolan has given Martha’s profession of faith pretty good play by making it the climactic verse of “I Am the Bread of Life.”
      HOWEVER (complaints are coming):
      1. Because so many hymns get whacked, plenty of congregations don’t make it through to that verse.
      2. Revisers of “I Am the Bread of Life,” opting for “I will raise you up” as a replacement for “I will raise him up,” have made the hymn end in the monstrous “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who have come into the world, and I will raise you up on the last day.” (I’ve always wondered what revision Sister Suzanne herself favors.)

  3. GREAT EXCHANGE! WHEN PEOPLE TELL ME, “I WAS SO OVERWHELMED BY SO AND SO’S CONDITION, I DIDNT’ KNOW WHAT TO SAY” I SUGGEST HOW ABOUT ASKING THEM WHAT THEY NEED YOU TO DO FOR THEM? THAT OFTEN EMPTIES A ROOM. OH WE WEILL SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOU…YEAH, LITTLE, NEARLY INVISIBLE AND QUITE CONVENIENT. BY THE WAY, THE CHAIRS NEED RE-STACKING.

  4. An acquaintance of mine named Martha was fond of John 11:5, which begins, “Jesus loved Martha.” (She didn’t mention the rest of the verse.) She pointed out that the Gospels don’t record Jesus as specifically loving very many named individuals. The ones who hold that honor, besides Martha, are a pretty odd lot: the rich young man (but only in Mark), a mysterious disciple who turns up frequently at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, and Martha’s siblings. (I believe that’s all of them.)

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