In the Gospel accounts of Luke and John we meet a woman named Martha, who together with her sister, Mary and brother, Lazarus, are friends of Jesus, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). In the home of Martha, Jesus and his disciples were welcomed with gracious hospitality. Three visits are found in the Gospels in Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-53, and John 12:1-9.
Identifying with Martha in the story of Luke is quite easy. Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her home and immediately goes to work serving them. With the importance of hospitality in the Middle East, Martha is frustrated when her sister Mary ignores the rule of hospitality in order to sit and listen to Jesus. Martha expresses her frustration to Jesus asking him 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. We are often worried and distracted by all we have to do in the world and forgetting to spend time with Jesus. Even in these times, Jesus loves us just the same, just as he did Martha.
The next visit that was recorded in the Gospels shows us that Martha had greatly advanced in her faith. Martha is grieving the death of her brother with a house full of mourners when she hears that Jesus has just come to the area. Martha immediately gets up and leave the guests, leaves her mourning, and goes to meet Jesus.
The conversation Martha has with Jesus when she meets him on the road reveals her faith and courage. Martha greets him saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him” (John 21-22). The conversation ends with the powerful statement of faith, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).
During another visit to Bethany, Jesus shares a meal with his friends. During the dinner, we hear about how Mary causes a commotion at dinner by anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. In the same account, we only hear that “Martha served.” She isn't in the spotlight, she doesn't do showy things, she doesn't receive spectacular miracles. She simply serves Jesus and the disciples.
In these Gospel accounts, we see images of Martha's maturity, strength, common sense, and concern for others.
In reflecting on St. Martha's history we are inspired by her loving relationship with Jesus, her spirit of welcoming hospitality, her courage in the face of difficulties and her compassionate presence in service to all. May we follow her example of welcoming the Lord who comes, and serve Him with devotion and loving zeal.