Saint Martha of Bethany
By Patricia Almeida-Greene
St. Martha was a noted woman in the New Testament. She lived in Bethany, a village two miles from Jerusalem, and was the sister of Mary and Lazarus. She was a personal friend of Jesus who visited her home frequently with His disciples.
Martha is mentioned in three biblical situations.
The first occasion is in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus And His disciples were received into Martha's home. While Martha waited on the men, her sister Mary sat a Jesus' feet to listen to His teaching. Martha complained and asked Jesus to rebuke Mary for leaving all the work to her. He replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary had chosen the best part.
The second time Martha is mentioned in the Bible is at the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). After Lazarus had been dead four days and entombed, it is again Martha who takes the active role and goes out to meet Jesus. She told Jesus that Lazarus would not have died if He had been there but knew God would grant whatever Jesus asked. When Jesus assures Martha that her brother will rise again, Martha pronounces a statement of faith that has been remembered through out all of Christian history: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” Martha replied “Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” It was also the practical minded Martha who warned Jesus that the body of her dead brother would smell when the stone was rolled back.
The final time Martha is mentioned in the Bible is just before the Passion when Jesus has dinner in Bethany (John 12 :1-8). Martha “served” while Mary anointed his feet.
Martha is not mentioned again and there is no indication of when or where she died. Legend says she accompanied her sister and brother to the south of France and that in 1187 her alleged relics were discovered at Tarasion and placed in a crypt in a church there. Martha is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. Her feast day is July 29. In Aramaic her name means “mistress, lady.” She is the patron saint of housekeepers, servants and cooks. In art she is often depicted with a bucket or with utensils for the care of the home.
Martha had the esteemed honor of being a personal friend of Jesus. She often had the privilege of serving Him by providing for Him and his disciples. She was devoted to Him. One of Martha's greatest attributes is her simple and strong faith in Jesus after her brothers death. In spite of her emotional devastation she ran to meet Him with great love and assurance in His power. She believed in His promise of eternal life and that He was the chosen one of God. This belief in the resurrection has been uttered to this day. Her conversation with Jesus is repeated in the Mass for the Dead when we too promised everlasting life for our faith and trust in Jesus. Martha also shows that when we are overwhelmed there is no place to go to than God. He alone is what we need.
Martha is the prototype of the busy homemaker but more importantly the active Christian. Martha is someone every Catholic can relate to, especially every woman. We are continually distracted, worried and bogged down by our duties. Our life seems continually busy and our hours full. We feel we must do everything for everyone. We are anxious and may live life full of worry. Weariness creeps in and overpowers us. We find it difficult to find time and strength to nurture our spiritual life. Our good intentions at practicing our faith become swallowed up by the “urgent” activities we feel we must perform. Often times it can feel like one more duty, another responsibility. We can begin to feel sorry for ourselves and resent others, blaming them for their lack of effort just as Martha felt toward her sister Mary. But as Jesus told Martha, Mary has chosen the better part.
Jesus does not reprimand Martha for her busyness bur reminds her to focus on what is really important. He did not rebuke Martha's actions; he was rebuking her attitude. He blamed Martha not for her attentive service of love but for allowing that service to irritate, agitate and absorb her.
The world applauds achievement but God only desires our companionship. Everyone has “a lot that has to be done” but fostering our spiritual lives and spending time with God should be our main objective. It is better to busy ourselves with the things of God rather than human concerns. We should leave our worry behind, not because there is nothing to be concerned about but because we have someone who can handle it a lot better than we can. Instead of worrying about everything, we should pray about everything. The only thing we need for a deeper friendship with God is showing up with a heart that is open and ready to receive. The best way to accomplish this is faithfully to set aside some quiet time each day and devote that time to prayer. In our times of prayerful conversation with God we open our hearts telling Him our deepest thoughts and troubles and listen to His advice. We should sit at His feet and listen to His word by reading the Bible. It is amazing that so many of our questions can be answered there, and so many of our concerns put to rest.
Practically speaking, letting go of our concerns can be very difficult at times. As much as we may try to make more time for God, life's' responsibilities do hamper our efforts. We do have many things we have to get done. We need to unite the two and do it all for the Lord. Service without spirituality is exhausting and hopeless. But in the same respect, spirituality without service is barren and selfish. We need to be in tune with the presence of God and make all our undertakings an act of worship. All moments of our life, no matter how mundane can become alive with the presence of Christ. We can praise God by praying through our work. We should begin our day by asking God for His guiding presence and offer it up to Him. We beseech Him to give us internal peace, patience and perseverance.
The life of Martha teaches us valuable lessons; our faith will ultimately be rewarded, and we should place Godly concerns before all else and make special time to sit at the feet of Jesus. Also, when we are bogged down by human labors and concerns we should unite them with the Lord, offering our work up in prayer.