Saint Martha – 29 July

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Continuing the series on patron saints of our oblates.  Today is the feast day of St. Martha, Patron of Gregory Martha Herr, Obl.S.B.  Name-day blessings to you, Greg!

[The following is adapted from what is posted here.]

Though Saints Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are represented by St. John as living at Bethany, St. Luke would seem to imply that at one time they had lived in Galilee, perhaps at Magdala, which would make Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene the same person.

We read of three visits by our Lord at Martha’s home in Bethany, a small village two miles from Jerusalem: Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-53, and John 12:1-9.

Since hospitality is paramount in the Middle East and Martha honored the priorities of her culture, it is no surprise to find that she welcomes Jesus by, apparently, focusing on serving him. Imagine her frustration when her sister Mary ignores the rule of hospitality and Martha’s work in order to sit and listen to Jesus. Instead of speaking to her sister, she asks Jesus to intervene.

Jesus’ response is not unkind, which gives us an idea of his affection for her. He observes that Martha is worried about many things that distract her from really being present to him. He reminds her that there is only one thing that is truly important—listening to him. And that is what Mary has done.

In Martha we see ourselves—worried and distracted by all we have to do in the world and forgetting to spend time with Jesus. It is, however, comforting to note that Jesus loved her just the same.

The next visit shows how well Martha learned this lesson. She is grieving the death of her brother with a house full of mourners when she hears that Jesus has just come to the area. She gets up immediately and leaves the guests, leaves her mourning, and goes to meet him.

Her conversation with Jesus shows her faith and courage. In this dialogue she states clearly without doubt that she believes in Jesus’ power, in the resurrection, and most of all that Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection and the life and then goes on to raise her brother from the dead.

Our final picture of Martha in Scripture is the one that sums up who she was.  Jesus has returned to Bethany some time later to share a meal with his good friends. In this home were three extraordinary people. We hear how Lazarus caused a stir when was brought back to life.  We hear how Mary causes a commotion at dinner by annointing Jesus with expensive perfume. But all we hear about Martha is the simple statement: “Martha served.” She isn’t in the spotlight, she doesn’t do showy things, she doesn’t receive spectacular miracles. She simply serves Jesus.

We know nothing more about Martha and what happened to her later. According to an untrustworthy but charming legend Martha accompanied Mary to evangelize France after Pentecost, settling in Avignon or Tarascon.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the most important thing that could be said about us is “They served”?

Martha is the patron saint of servants and cooks.

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