“I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”
These words from St. Martha of Bethany make her my favorite woman in the bible (after Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’s mother and mine). This is the very same Martha who was rebuked by Jesus in Luke 10. As someone who fears letting others down and you regularly struggles with comparison, I always struggled with the Mary and Martha passage. We often talk about these two women as if they’re in competition with each other. We say Mary is clearly better than Martha because she has chosen the better part. In homilies and reflections we always read about how we need to be less like Martha and more like Mary, as if Martha isn’t good enough. That might not be how you’ve felt over your lifetime of hearing these passages, but it sure is how I felt. That is, until I prayed with these two passages during a silent retreat.
Martha was the first person in Scripture to explicitly call Jesus the Christ, Peter does it too, but later on. Well, I guess I’m not quite sure on the exact timeline, but Martha professes her faith in the Kingship of Jesus without prompting or insight from anyone else. Martha sees Jesus as He really is. I compared this Martha to the Martha in Luke 10. In Luke, Martha is consumed with serving. I’m convinced she had the best intentions at heart, but she got caught up in needing to do everything right, in caring for the earthly needs of the people gathered together, in supporting her friend Jesus in His teaching. She thinks she’s doing what Jesus wants, otherwise she wouldn’t have asked Him to make Mary help her! Jesus’s rebuke is gentle. He’s not yelling at her or trying to call her out in front of the crowd. In His tenderheartedness, He reveals what He really wants of her. I think He’s also alluding that He would have told her what He wanted if she had only asked.
Compare this Martha to the one from today’s gospel. She runs out to meet Jesus. She expresses her grief at the death of her brother but she also expresses her faith in God and in the resurrection. When Jesus asks her if she believe in Him, she does more than just say “yes.” She reveals the fulness of what she believes. She knows that Jesus is the promised one, the savior of Israel and of the world.
I sat in my holy hour, pondering this difference and I asked Martha in my prayer, “What changed?”
“I did.” She responded.
In my prayer-conversation with Martha, she went on to say that when Jesus challenges you, you must have the humility to accept it. Any challenge met with pride will become the source of resentment, but when you know how intimately Jesus loves you, you know that He never seeks to embarrass or harm. Martha took Jesus’s words to heart. She became recollected. She sought to recognize her duties as God defined them, not as she perceived them. That still involves service but doing so peacefully. That meant mourning her brother but doing so with confidence in God’s plan.
Martha grew. Though she is often criticized because she’s too busy, Martha took the rebuke and grew. Where can I say the same? Where are the areas that I’ve felt Jesus call me to change? Have I followed through on that? That’s what we can learn from St. Martha.
St. Martha of Bethany, pray for us.
-Amanda Benner, Director of Evangelization