Friday, July 29, 2022

Please Allow Me to Bend Your Ear About St. Martha, My Patron

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Jan Vermeer

I wrote this some time ago when Saint Martha's feast day didn't include the whole family.  I still have not written anything I like better about her than this piece. Since she is my patron saint, I present this in loving tribute to my journey with her intercession and support.

It is no secret that Martha is my patron saint. I chose her because she is the patron saint of housewives but it soon became clear that it probably was God who chose to put us together. I relate to Martha in so many ways and her life stands as a measure of the person I work toward becoming ... a faithful servant who loves Jesus and is his good friend.

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."
This is the story about Martha that springs to mind for most people and this is the first time (chronologically) that we hear her mentioned. We have all heard variations of the basic message about this passage of keeping your mind on Jesus no matter what else you may be doing and to listen before acting. I also recently heard Bishop Barron speak about N.T. Wright's comment that only men would normally act as Mary is doing, so Martha is also asking for a return to cultural norms. Which is a fascinating point also.

However, we also see the confidence Martha shows when approaching Jesus with her complaint. What good friends they were for her to feel so comfortable coming to him like that. Jesus' affection is clear as he answers her much more gently than he often does his disciples.

For us, it also is a lesson in the fact that there is nothing too small to go to Jesus about. He will always help us with anything, even if it is something like helping give the right perspective.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."

When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus...

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."

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."
Again, a familiar story featuring Martha though more often it is told from the point of view of the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. First of all, we may wonder how Martha knew that Jesus had arrived when Mary didn't. What it may make us think of is someone who is attuned to all the little details even in the middle of her grief. Perhaps there was a flutter of unusual activity that clued her in, so she went to investigate.

When we examine Martha's conversation with Jesus, we see again how familiar and friendly she is with him. She doesn't hesitate to say that she is disappointed that he didn't save her brother. How can one not love the confidence and trust that shows?

Martha also shows her great faith and understanding in unmistakable terms: I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. What an amazing moment that must have been between Jesus and Martha. Yet, after such a moment, she also doesn't forget her sister, Mary, who is still at home mourning. Martha is both loving and practical to the bone.

We have an unmistakable example of that practicality when Jesus is getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead and we are told: Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days" (John 11:39). Martha's unwavering, housewifely, detail-oriented common sense is used to emphasize the greatness of Jesus' miracle. The corpse is well into decay and yet he will still be brought back to life. How like God to use the mundane and practical moment to catch our attention and bring it to an even greater realization of His glory and love for us.
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus 2 and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Through watching Martha's progression in the previous Scripture, this very simple mention speaks to the difference between the first time we saw her and now.

Martha served.

That is all that needs to be said. Nothing about needing help is brought up now or comparing another's service to her own. Mary serves Jesus in her way while Martha serves Jesus in hers. Together they complement each other as both have chosen the better part. A beautiful end to a beautiful journey of faith.

I pray that my own journey may prove as fruitful as my dear St. Martha's.


  1. Beautiful. When I was growing up, my grandmother had a kitchen prayer hanging in our kitchen I don't remember the whole prayer, but what stands out , and I still say this prayer now, was "Lord, give me Martha's hands, and Mary's heart." Thank you

  2. I too love Saint Martha. As a stay at home mom, I frequently feel that lament and I can hear the words, Martha, Martha, you are anxious....and know my irritations and frustrations are not proper. Thank you for this piece. I often times say I suffer from the sins of Martha, but I hope to one day emulate her virtues as well.

  3. I love what you wrote and wished everyone talked about Martha that way instead of always insisting she is the whiny sister. I always felt the interaction she had with Jesus meant they had a deep comfortable friendship of understanding and love. After all, she is the first one to say she believed in the Resurrection. She truly has been listening to Jesus all along as well as serving him food!

  4. Wonderful post Julie. I enjoyed reading that. Just like the older son (who I identify with) of the prodigal son parable we have to learn to go beyond our natures, and yet the world needs to hear our voices too.

  5. I find this story so frustrating - the Mary and Martha one - because it appears to deny the reality that someone needs to do the cooking and someone needs to do the cleaning! If everyone were Mary, we would all be hungry in dirty houses. Honestly. It's like men - and Jesus was one, blesshisheart - think the gravy just comes by magic.

    1. I used to feel the same way. In the same way that I used to feel sorry for the elder son in the Prodigal Son parable. But it is about internal motivation much more than externals. I was trying to get that across in my comments but obviously failed. :-)

  6. If Martha is the great noticer, I wonder if the miracle goes even deeper for her. Because she knew why it shouldn't work. Because even with her belief she didn't expect speci treatment. Oh worker bees, oh homebodies, perhaps there is understanding here. :)

    1. That's a great point. It parallels something that came up in conversation yesterday -- Peter has been fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus tells him to get back in the boat and go fish some more. He does it and catches enough fish to fill two boats. Peter immediately returns and casts himself at Jesus' feet. He KNOWS, as an experienced fisherman, just how unlikely that catch was. That it was miraculous. I never thought to connect that to Martha. Thank you!

  7. Found this little homily that tells a story about Martha being a dragon slayer.

  8. a wonderful meditation after having just recognizing this wonderful saint in this morning's Liturgy of the Hours. Thank you.

  9. I was reading through the comments, and I love the prayer Diane mentioned, "Lord, give me Martha's hands, and Mary's heart."
    This was last week's gospel reading. At first, I was bothered that Martha did all the preparing while Mary just sat with the other's to listen to Jesus. I usually find myself like that. Always anxious and so focused on making everything perfect for an event. But the more I reflected on it, I understood why we all need to be like Mary. I know Martha's intentions were for Christ, but her anxiety made her worry more than merely focusing on the most important thing... Jesus Christ's message.

  10. Thank you for posting this every year. I am reading it every time and each time loving it more, and maybe, I hope so, St. Martha is my patron saint too.

  11. You are very welcome! :-)