Tuesday, July 29, 2008
(Icon of Martha)
I've missed a few Saints' Days over the last few days, all of which I wanted to post about here. Friday was the Feast Day of Saint James the Greater, the brother of John, the Bishop of Jerusalem and the first apostle to be martyred. Then over the weekend came the Feast Day for Mary's parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. But today is the Feast Day of one of my favorite biblical people, Martha. Her name in Aramaic means "mistress of the house" or "lady."
I am SO like Martha that it isn't funny. I do have a Mary-streak, a yen for contemplation and simply sitting at the feet of Jesus, but it must happen after all the dishes are done, the house is vacuumed, and the garden watered. But as the author of the Saint-a-Day e-mails from americancatholic.org reminds us, Martha also spoke one of the greatest affirmations of who Jesus really is.
Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus were evidently close friends of Jesus. He came to their home simply as a welcomed guest, rather than as one celebrating the conversion of a sinner like Zacchaeus or one unceremoniously received by a suspicious Pharisee. The sisters feel free to call on Jesus at their brother’s death, even though a return to Judea at that time seems almost certain death.
No doubt Martha was an active sort of person. On one occasion (see Luke 10:38-42) she prepares the meal for Jesus and possibly his fellow guests and forthrightly states the obvious: All hands should pitch in to help with the dinner.
Yet, as Father John McKenzie points out, she need not be rated as an “unrecollected activist.” The evangelist is emphasizing what our Lord said on several occasions about the primacy of the spiritual: “...[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear….But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:25b, 33a); “One does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4b); “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (Matthew 5:6a).
Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death. “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’” (John 11:25-27).
Scripture commentators point out that in writing his account of the raising of Lazarus, St. John intends that we should see Martha’s words to Mary before the resurrection of Lazarus as a summons that every Christian must obey. In her saying “The teacher is here and is asking for you,” Jesus is calling every one of us to resurrection—now in baptismal faith, forever in sharing his victory over death. And all of us, as well as these three friends, are in our own unique way called to special friendship with him.