Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Reflection on Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, loved the Lord Jesus with all their heart and ministered to Him. From the gospels it is clear that Jesus also loved this little family and treasured His moments with them. It was this Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead as a sign of the universal resurrection to come. After this sign, Jesus came into their home for a meal, and sat teaching all those present while Martha went about the business of preparing the food and serving. Much distracted by all the work, and resentful that her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him instead of sharing her burden, Martha suddenly blurted out to Jesus, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me”. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled by many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

While some may take Jesus’ words as a rebuke of Martha, I personally never understood them in that way. For one thing, it is hard for me to imagine Jesus doing anything to humiliate His friend in front of her family and everyone else present. It is likely His words were filled with kindness and love, and like the flipping of a light switch, suddenly brought to Martha the understanding and perspective she needed at that moment. Furthermore, although we are not told of her reaction, I rather doubt that she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room in a huff, to spend the next half-hour angrily banging pots and pans around in the kitchen! In my mind’s eye I can see her nodding her head in submission to the Lord and taking her place beside Mary, perhaps exchanging a smile and a warm squeeze of the hand with her as the two sat together listening to the remainder of the Lord’s teaching. When Jesus had finished, it is almost certain that the two sisters arose and went out to the kitchen together to complete the serving and to tend to their guests.

When Jesus spoke to Martha of “the one thing needful,” did He mean to say that there is never a place for service and good works? Certainly not! After ministering to them by the teaching of His word, Jesus then had the need to be ministered to Himself by the loving labors of these two women. We might even say that Mary and Martha are the two sisters representing devotion and good works that must live within the heart of every true Christian. As St. Ephraim the Syrian one wrote, “Blessed is he who with all reverence, like Mary, remains at the Lord’s feet (in prayer), and, like Martha, hastens to receive the Lord and Savior (with good works).”

In truth, both things are needful. A life spent only in an abstract reflection upon the word of God but never in the living out of it, is a life that profits little. Similarly, should we only live as “the busy bee,” constantly doing all the behind the scenes work of life or even of the parish, but seldom taking the time to sit quietly at the Lord’s feet and allow ourselves to be ministered to by Him, our Christian lives will remain empty of the one thing that gives them meaning in the first place.

Blessed are the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and blessed is the Christian who welcomes them both into his or her heart! May the prayers and intercessions of these two sister-saints beloved of Christ move us to imitate them both, and lead us toward the devotion and good works that represent the fullness of our life in Christ.

To God be all glory, honor, and worship. Amen.


At 11/08/2006 7:18 AM , Blogger E Rica said...

That;s cool you would say that. I always thought the Martha was a little misunderstood by Christians. I always felt the same way about her reaction that you do.

Plus, wasn't Martha the one, at the death of her brother, to say to God, "If you had been here, our brother would be alive!" She wasn't giving him a guilt-trip. Wasn't she stating her faith in Jesus? And Jesus praises Martha. That's how I understood it to be. Any thoughts?

At 11/08/2006 7:59 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

You are correct. St. John tells us in the 11th chapter of his gospel "memoir" that Martha went out to meet Jesus shortly after her brother's death, while Mary stayed in the house. In her exchange with Him, she made a confession virtually identical to Peter's, "I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world".

Yet just a few days later, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Martha got distracted by much serving and overlooked the "needful thing" of sitting at Jesus' feet.

What an important lesson this is to all of us on the need to be watchful of ourselves and make certain that our love for Jesus is expressed both in godly service and in prayerful devotion!

Blessed St. Martha, pray for us sinners.

At 11/09/2006 4:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

For myself, the story is a reminder to not get so caught up in the details of life, that we don't listen to what Jesus has to teach.

At 11/10/2006 7:28 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Thanks Anonymous, that’s always a good thing to remember. However, wouldn’t it be a shame if that were all we took from this passage? For that would leave us remembering Martha only as the woman who was “too distracted” to sit at Jesus’ feet, and that’s rather like remembering Thomas only as “the doubter” and Peter only as the cowardly denier of Christ. Truly Martha deserves better, as do all the women who are blessed to have her as their patron saint.

Martha is one of the shining saints in the New Testament, beloved of Christ and herself a lover of God, illumined by the Holy Spirit to be among the first ever to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God incarnate. She believed in the power of Jesus even before He raised her brother from the dead, thus demonstrating that her faith was not in things seen, but in the mercy and divine power of Christ our God. According to ancient Christian record, Martha was also one of the seven brave women who went to Christ’s tomb to anoint his body with myrrh and spices, and thus was blessed to be among that tiny group of most loyal followers who beheld the angels announcing His glorious resurrection. By this she became a true believer in the resurrection of Christ long before the apostles themselves, who rudely dismissed the women’s report as “an idle tale”.

Truly there is much good to remember Martha for. She is now truly “seated at the feet of Jesus” in heaven, and yet still retains her servant’s heart, making intercessions for the faithful on earth who strive to gain her love and devotion to Christ, together her high level of faithful service. She is a truly blessed saint and friend of Christ who deserves better than to only be remembered for her one failure.

At 11/10/2006 7:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here is one difference, to expound upon the fullness of Martha, or to give a good report concerning Martha in that venue.

No doubt and often overlooked is the fact the woman in Jesus's life understood the "what" he was teaching much better than than the men who walked with Him everyday.

It was Mary after all who stood watch over Jesus's Tomb.

Let us not miss the point of Jesus'sparable, life has many neccesary burdens and duties attached to it, Jesus is neither burden nor duty.

He is what is good in life, don't miss it by getting so busy with the mundane that the supranatural is forgooten or shuffled off for "someone else" to listen to.


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