Today is the Memorial of St. Martha, friend to Jesus and sister to Lazarus and Mary.
We meet Martha in two primary episodes in the Bible: the first when Jesus is dining at the home of his friends, and the second when Jesus show up after the death of Lazarus.
The first episode is a short one. Luke tells us:
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feed listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
It is interesting that when Jesus chides Martha, he didn’t say, “Why can’t you just be like Mary?” (Something more than one parent or teacher has said about a child when comparing the child to a sibling.) I suspect Jesus knew Martha never could be Mary, just as Mary never could be Martha.
We do need to recognize at the outset that we are all different. We possess different gifts and personalities. The common reaction to this Gospel episode, when Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part is to say what Jesus didn’t say: Silly Martha – she should have been more like her sister Mary.
But we need to remember something. It may be that she needed to let go of some worry and anxiety. But here is a woman in a time when women didn’t speak up to men, and they certainly didn’t chastise them. Yet Mary has the boldness to speak her piece with Jesus. Many women of her time would have held their tongue. But Martha spoke what was on her mind, understanding that being in relationship with Jesus means speaking what is actually on our mind and in our heart. Not saying only what we think we are supposed to say.
We can’t move forward with God unless we are honest about what is troubling us. It may be that Martha’s point was misplaced; indeed, from Jesus’ reaction we know it was. But that doesn’t change that had she stayed silent, she would not have learned from Jesus. Only her honesty and courage in speaking up allowed her to do that.
So Martha represents honesty and boldness.
She also represents a take-charge organization and efficiency that the world could not operate without. Someone does have to do the cooking, change the sheets if Jesus and his friends are going to stay overnight. Someone had to make sure there is enough wine for everyone and so on. Martha, in the words of Joanna Weaver “is an administrator extraordinaire – a whirling dervish of efficiency with a touch of Tasmanian she-devil thrown in to motivate the servants.”
So we do need Mary’s receptivity and ability to just sit at Jesus’ feet. But we also all need some Martha in us.
So on this day, let us learn from Martha – as well as from her sister Mary.