Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. We all know Martha, of “Martha and Mary,” sisters of Lazarus. Usually when we think of Martha, we think of the exchange between her and Jesus when Martha is bustling around working while her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus feet. Martha complains, and Jesus admonishes her that “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” That scene seems to diminish Martha (notwithstanding the fact that Martha took care of necessary tasks and the world could not survive without its Marthas).
What most draws me to Martha, however, is her expression of faith that hear in today’s Gospel from John.
Martha’s beloved brother Lazarus had been ill and Martha had been expecting Jesus to show up to heal him, as he had healed so many others. She is bitterly disappointed and more than a bit upset with Jesus when he finally arrives. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she accuses.
But she doesn’t stop there, adding, “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” And when Jesus asks if she believes that he is the resurrection and the life, that anyone who lives and believes in him will never die, Martha affirms, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
This is Martha’s shining moment. She demonstrates enormous faith, even as she is mourning her brother’s death. We don’t know what significance Martha’s affirmation had for Jesus at that moment, but in his humanness, her affirmation surely meant something to Him. It is an affirmation that reveals the glory of God.
In terms of our own lives, the Women’s Bible Commentary frames the question Martha faced this way: “Can I let go of the limits that one places on what is possible in order to embrace the limitless possibilities offered by Jesus?” Can we?
Several years ago, I gave a short post-communion reflection at a retreat house on the feast of St. Martha. You can listen to the podcast of that reflection here: