A Woman Named Martha

A woman named Martha welcomed Him to her home.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  He said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  But there is need of only One thing” (cf. Luke 10: 38-42).

Happy St. Martha’s day.  Grouped together with her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus, Martha serves as the patron saint of servants, cooks, and maids, among other things.  She’s also embraced by those who struggle with anxiety.  And, I can attest that she is totally the patron of type A, task-oriented introverts.

I’ve been reflecting on St. Martha (perhaps because this has been a season of extraordinary distraction, with tons of preparations to be made).  In particular, I’ve been wondering about some of the things she says to Jesus.  In Luke 10:40, she turns to Him and says: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”  Then, because this woman truly has no fear, in John 11:21, puts this one to the living God: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

So, these statements, taken by themselves, sound…accusatory?  Ignorant?  Self-focused?  Like something that I would say?

But we also know that Martha is a friend of the Lord for a reason—perhaps her straightforwardness and other-oriented work ethic brought a smile to Jesus’ face.  And, of anyone, Jesus is patient with the foibles of his friends.  In fact, Jesus’ 12 (male) disciples say plenty of rather silly things…things that smack of disbelief (Mark 6:37), of pride and envy (Luke 22:24), or even outright lies (Matthew 26: 70).

These disciples…from James and John to Peter…are awarded feast days.  And yet Martha was the first one to say: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  And she makes this statement in chapter ELEVEN of John!  (For context, John has 21 chapters.)

Martha, human as she is, voices both our fears and worries, and our greatest moments of faith and hope.  She is a saint for us all, worriers and workers, and those of us who love to unite our prayer and work.

We, who so hope to be friends of Jesus, can rest assured that we have a template for the liturgical life—with its foibles and fearlessness—in the heart of Martha, servant of the Christ, the Son of God, the One who has come in to the world.

4 comments

  1. Integrating the Martha & Mary of Luke 10 with the Martha & Mary of John 11 is vital. Thank you for underscoring Martha’s profession of faith in John 11. (One might argue Martha’s confession is actually two-fold – earlier in the chapter, in verse 22, there’s her potent “But I know that even now” statement that is a condensed profession of faith that is a model for all disciples thereafter. Whatever terrible is happening in one’s faith life, remembering and invoking Martha’s “But I know even now” is quite possible the most succinct way to join one’s agency with the Divine Will.)

    For my late mother’s funeral, we chose the reading from John 11 precisely because it aptly captured our mother’s fierce relationship with God. The Martha of John 11 is a woman of great agency, not merely begging but arguably even charging Jesus to fulfill his mission. She’s bold in her faith – hope – and love. (Peter and the other male Apostles don’t come anywhere near her energy until Pentecost.)

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