St Martha of Bethany

Contemporary and Friend of Jesus

Yesterday the Church celebrated the life, service and witness of Saint Martha. She is the patron saint of homemakers, domestic workers and cooks. According to the gospel accounts of Luke and John, Jesus was good friends with Martha of Bethany, her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Martha and Mary hosted Jesus in their house on different occasions, welcoming and treating him like family. 

In the various accounts, Martha appears to exemplify “the host with the most”, representing a more apostolic Christian way of living and attending to the more corporal needs of those in her company. In contrast, her sister, Mary, seems to represent the more contemplative Christian way of living, focusing more on spiritual needs (including the importance of waiting, listening, and communing with God through prayer and contemplative dialogue), which Jesus makes a point of praising.

Jesus says this to Martha, after she has been busily lavishing him with her love through hospitality and then complaining about the lack of assistance from Mary, who is being attentive to Jesus in a different way. Perhaps we can relate to this in our own familial and domestic contexts. We may also have the tendency to be more focused on physical needs, especially at this time. 

Currently, in the era of COVID-19, some people are worrying more about hand washing, sanitising, good hygiene, physical distancing and “staying safe”. There have been reports of some buying and hoarding excess supplies for day-to-day living, out of fear and concern for their own needs. However, in this account featuring Martha, we are reminded to be more present to those in our midst (especially those with whom we keep company at home), be not so concerned with temporal affairs, and to allow the necessary time and space to nourish our personal relationship with God. 

Jesus says this to Martha, during his visit with her and her sister after Lazarus their beloved brother has died, and she repeats it back to him, reiterating her own belief in the resurrection. It may be worth acknowledging here that with our world currently in a state of COVID-19 upheaval, there is considerable uncertainty, anxiety and grief. 

Many are grieving the loss of life and loved ones, the loss of homes, the loss of employment, the loss of travel, and the loss of any previous notion of “normal” existence. 

One only has to access the daily newsfeed and be faced with the ever-increasing numbers of those infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. There too are reports of the subsequent deaths, especially in the states of Victoria and New South Wales, and those having to endure further restrictions, lockdown and isolation. 

Perhaps we can also seek solace in Jesus’ words of comfort and faith, as offered to Martha, and move beyond the grief and loss into a place of healing and hope.

A good friend and a fellow Sister of Mercy reminds me of this on a regular basis: we live in hope. Amid all the worry and grief, and through Martha’s encounters with Jesus, we are encouraged to have hope: 

Hope in the resurrection, hope in eternal life with God, hope in prayer, and perhaps hope in a new way of being and living post-pandemic.

We are also encouraged to be more mindful of all the good and show gratitude for all the signs of hope that are present in our world. One only has to consider all the workers on the front-line who are continuing to provide us with the essential services needed for our living, care-giving, health and education –our “modern day Martha”?

May we continue to pray for all those affected in various ways by the current pandemic. May we be inspired by Saint Martha in being called forth by Jesus to greater faith and hope. May we find balance in the meeting of corporal and spiritual needs. May we also incorporate a more contemplative stance and make time for God in the busyness of our day-to-day lives. Saint Martha; pray for us.

St Martha of Bethany

One thought on “St Martha of Bethany

  1. Thank you so much for this, it has helped me enormously and I have shared it on Facebook.

    God bless you all and FIAT always

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