Saint Martha, Disciple of the Lord

Saint Martha is commemorated each year on 29 July with her brother and sister, Lazarus and Mary. She was from Bethany, a village a few kilometres east of Jerusalem. Jesus was often a guest in her home, especially during the time of His preaching in Jerusalem. St Luke relates one time when he was visiting his friends in Bethany. “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 feet 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.”

On account of her dedication to doing the work necessary to welcome a guest, the Church recognizes Martha as a model of industriousness, but even praiseworthy labour can risk obscuring the interior life. We are reminded how important it is to nourish the spirit, to listen to the Word of God, because it is the Word of God that gives meaning to our daily activities. And so Martha and Mary have been seen as examples of the active and the contemplative life; the life of external activity and the life of prayer. In the life of a Christian, activity and contemplation should be seen as complementary, and not opposed to one another.

But Saint Martha has also left us a strong witness of faith. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘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. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” We see here a total belief, a faith that does not hesitate or doubt. Martha has complete confidence in God, even in the face of what seems impossible on a human level:  Martha condenses the whole of the faith into a simple confession of belief, a simple answer in which every Christian can recognize the meaning of life.

Today in Bethany (now known as El-Azariyeh, “the place of Lazarus”), you can find the tomb of Lazarus, as well as a church built upon the remains of Byzantine and Crusader structures -themselves constructed on top of a pre-existing structure. This is believed to be the house of Martha. Then tradition tells us that, after the first persecutions of Christians, Martha, with Mary and Lazarus, and some others, left their own land and went to France, arriving in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the Camargue, Provence, where they brought the Christian faith.

Fr Matthew, based on an article from Vatican News