July 29, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Martha

Today's Readings

St. Martha is probably better remembered for the Gospel story about when she complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her get the food ready, but this Gospel serves as an important counterbalance. If all we ever knew about Martha was the time she complained, we would not be aware of her remarkable faith. Today, as she mourns the death of her brother, Jesus comes to visit Mary and her. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary sat at home.” Just a few days ago we were considering the amazing story of Mary, but here Mary sat at home. Mary is angry with Jesus. She is throwing a temper-tantrum.

Martha is our example today: when you hear Jesus is coming, go out to meet him. Martha, no less than Mary, was confused that Jesus had let Lazarus die; Martha loved her brother as much as Mary did; Martha was mourning his death in the same way as Mary, but Martha still went out to meet Jesus. Mary waits for Jesus to call her name, but Martha gets up and goes to meet Jesus. She knows that there is no point in being angry with God.

Then Martha, in the midst of her distress, shows the depths of her understanding. She confesses her faith in Jesus. This confession is to be ranked with the great confessions of the Gospel: the confession of Peter on which Jesus built the Church, the confession of the good thief nailed to the Cross next to Jesus, and the confession of the centurion who crucified Jesus. Indeed, Martha’s confession stands out even among these. Her confession is clearer; it shows more understanding.

Martha did not have Mary’s exciting life and amazing conversion, but, in this short conversation, she proves that an unexciting life can bear amazing fruit. In spite of all the rejoicing over a lamb that was lost and has been found, there is something to be said for the lamb who always stayed in the sheepfold. A convert often puts us old Christians to shame with an abundance of enthusiasm for their newly found faith, but a life-long “good person” has put down roots that will hold them steady in the worst storms. The slow conversion of a boring life is no less a conversion than the most famous conversions ever. If they can master humility and gratitude, their unexciting life will have prepared them well to understand the mysteries of God.