The only source of our information about St. Martha is what is written in Luke chapter 10:38-42 and John chapter 11. She is the sister of Lazar and Mary. Bethany was their dwelling place. They were Jesus’ close friends. Jesus and his disciples used to visit them. They were warmly welcomed into their house. It seems that Martha was the ‘chief executive’ of the family. In Luke chapter 10 and John chapter 11 it is she who welcomes Jesus into their house(Lk, 10) and goes out to welcome him when she heard that he was coming (Jn, 11). She was a smart woman, active, friendly and hospitable. There are people who identify Mary, Martha’s sister with Mary Magdalen. According to Catholic Encyclopedia(Cf.Vol. 9, p.387,393) Mary Magdalen, the penitent woman in Lk ch.7 and Mary sister of Martha are different persons.
The Spirituality of St. Martha
In the family of Lazar, the active person is Martha. Lazar is very silent. In the book of St. Luke Chapter 10 Mary appears in a contemplative mood; she is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him. In Jn. ch. 11, when Jesus was coming to their house Martha went out to meet him, but Mary remained at home and she went to welcome Jesus only when Martha told her that Jesus was asking for her. All three members of the family had deep faith and trust in him.
St.Martha is a very good example of generous hospitality, loving service and deep faith and trust in Jesus. In Lk: 10:38-42 we find her warmly welcoming Jesus and immediately starting to prepare meal for Jesus and his disciples. That is what hospitable people do when a guest comes-a real concern for the guest. Sometimes people go in conversation with the guest without any concern for their bodily need ie hunger. What prompted Martha to action was her sincere and deep love for Jesus. We find Martha’s freedom with Jesus when she goes to complain to him that her sister left her alone in kitchen work.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Usually, the host does not complain to the guest if someone in the family does not co-operate in preparing a meal for the guests; Martha’s freedom with Jesus was one of simplicity, openness and warmth. Martha’s effort to prepare a banquet for Jesus reminds us what Jesus had done for us in the Eucharistic banquet and our duty to break ourselves with love for the well-being of others. Jesus asks us ‘to do what he did when we gather together in his name’. Martha was much worried about preparing a meal for Jesus.
However, it is very clear that Jesus was very much in her mind; her heart was with Jesus. Similarly, when we work for Jesus we will have worries and anxieties. But even in the midst of them, our hearts must be set on Jesus; all our services also should be for Him, not for our fame and name. Jesus’ words;” I came to serve and not to be served”(Mt 20:28) call our attention to Jesus’ self-emptying spirit.
This spirit is reflected in Martha’s loving service to Jesus. It is the spirit that underlines in our Charism. Inspired by this spirit we commit ourselves to the services of the people of God especially the marginalized.
Martha’s complain to Jesus and his response to her lead us to the following conclusions:
- Over anxiety is unnecessary.
- Martha might have thought that if her sister assisted her she could finish the work soon and she could also go to Jesus and listen to him.
- Jesus’ support to Mary points to the priority of listening to Jesus in becoming a true disciple to services even though service is necessary.
This tells us that plunging into services without listening to him is unacceptable to him. Sit at the feet of Jesus and carefully listen to him to know what he wants us to do. That will be the real service to Jesus and to his people.
Again Martha had unlimited trust in Jesus. Her words to Jesus testifies it:
“Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you”
Our Patroness Martha’s faith and trust in Jesus remined us that our consecrated life must be rooted in deep faith and trust in our Lord. It is founded on Jesus’ words, deeds and life. When faith and trust in Jesus vanish from consecrated persons, it becomes a burden, a meaningless life. In inviting Mary to come to Jesus she reminds us that we too are to bring others to Jesus whom we know. It is a real proof of our real love for Jesus Christ- to make Him known to as many people as possible.
We draw from our Patroness St. Martha the following inspirations
- Combine prayer and action
- Sustain continuous contact with God through prayer even among activities.
- Lead a simple and hardworking life.
- Keep a service- mentality everywhere.
- Find out joy in humble services.
- Be available for services in the local church.