Martha is officially my spirit animal.
The sister of Lazarus and Mary she usually gets a bad reputation of being the busy body, the harsh non-spiritual part of every bible story she is in (a whopping 2 stories). Yet when I heard the Gospel a few Sundays ago I saw her in a whole new light, one that almost perfectly reflected my own spiritual life.
Martha is real. She is human. She gets angry and isn’t afraid to call out the Lord,“if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (Jn 11:21). The best analogy I can give to how I view Martha is that for men Peter is to Jesus as for women Martha is to the Virgin Mary. Mary and Jesus are the perfected role models the Lord gives us to follow while Peter and Martha are the messy humans who try to figure out how to follow Jesus through their brokenness of being perfectly human.
The struggle to just be…
While she is only mentioned twice in the bible I feel she plays an important role in each story. In Luke 10:38-42 we find the classic Mary & Martha story. Imagine it, Jesus, the one who has cured the blind and lame, the one who has been preaching to crowds of hundreds even thousands has just showed up on her doorstep along with his closest followers. She immediately invites Him in (how could she not?!) and proceeds to serve Him and the rest of her guests determined to pull out all the stops and give Him the very best. She prepares the meal and begins serving the courses, clearing the used table wear, refilling empty cups, all by herself. All the while her sister, Mary, sits at Jesus’ feet not even making an effort to help Martha. Being human, Martha finally had enough and was gutsy enough to approach Jesus asking Him to send Mary to help her (probably with washing the dishes, because who wants to do that alone?). Jesus’ response is so beautiful and puts Martha’s frustration in perspective. “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” (Lk 1041-42). Martha had fallen into the earthly trap of worrying about worldly matters. Like us she got caught up in the rush of the world and it’s demands letting the anxiety of such demands rule her. So much so that she was unable to be still. She was so worried about serving Jesus and his followers and caring for their needs that she was unable to take a moment, a single moment, to stop and just be in His presence.
Let go & let God,
Martha’s relatable features doesn’t end there. Oh no! Her other story is just as relatable if not more so. Honestly, I relate to this story better when I put it in the context of the spiritual relationship we have with the Lord. It’s the story of Lazarus’ death. Martha has just lost her brother. Put yourself in her shoes. You have just lost someone you dearly loved, or some major catastrophe has happened in your life. Martha hears that Jesus is coming and goes straight to Him and her first words to Him are “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”(Jn 11:21). Imagine the anguish, anger and accusation behind those words. “Lord, why did you let this happen?! If you had been here you could have cured him as you did others.” How often when something goes south in our lives do we wrestle with the Lord asking Him why He let such things happen to us? Martha continues to do so not afraid to show Jesus her hurt. Yet she does not close down entirely, she vents her frustration and then remains open to the love of the Lord. Jesus asks if she believes that He is the Messiah, if she trusts Him completely. He asks each of us this, sometimes daily. He asks us to trust Him, that our pain and trials in life has purpose and that He can help us if we let go and trust in Him completely. Martha had the courage to answer “Yes Lord.” and actually mean it.
When Jesus orders Lazarus tomb opened Martha, ever the realist, warns Jesus by saying “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days”(Jn 11:39). I have grown to love this line. On the surface we have Martha stumbling in her faith over a practicality of the world. How many times have we stumbled in our faith due to a practicality? When we feel the Lord is calling us to doing something in our faith life but we falter because of obstacles such as money, family, work obligations, etc… On a deeper level though Martha seems to be questioning Jesus. “Lord, there is a stench, do you truly want this mess? You deserve much more than this stinking, messy broken human.” Sometimes we willingly say yes to the Lord and are determined to give everything to Him. Yet as He begins to poke and prod our hearts, He begins to get close to, what the wonderful Mary Bielski refers to as, the tombs of our hearts. The places where we store everything that is rotting and broken in us. We shut Him out in response to this terrifying nearness . Jesus responds to this questioning and gently reminds Martha, and us,“Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”(Jn 11:40). That if you believe in Him, if you trust Him with everything, He will transform it into the glory of God. Just as He transformed Lazarus’ stench into breath coming from a now living body.
Martha, Martha, Martha…
I marvel at the strength, courage, messy, stubbornness that is Martha. She is wonderfully, imperfectly human. Someone who sprints and stumbles in turn in her spiritual life just as I do in mine, and she actually knew Jesus! I hope you enjoyed this Spotlight Sister and encourage you to read both Lk 10:38-42 and Jn 11:17-44 and reflect on them, maybe Martha reaches out to you in different, unique way.
St. Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus and sister to our hearts pray for us and lead us closer to our Lord, Jesus.