St Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus rose from the dead. They were from the small village of Bethany which was on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives about three kilometres from Jerusalem. They were friends of Jesus and Jesus saw their home as a place of rest and refuge.
St Martha is mentioned three times in the Gospels. Firstly, in St Luke’s Gospel (St Luke 10:38-42) as she welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her home and immediately starts to serve them. Hospitality in the Middle East was of paramount importance and St Martha gets a little annoyed and frustrated that Mary her sister is leaving this all to her. She complains to Jesus “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me” Jesus replies “Martha, Martha, you fret and worry about many things. One thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken from her”. Jesus affectionately reminds St Martha that there is only one thing that is truly important and that is listening to Him. And that is what Mary has done. In St Martha we may be able see ourselves as anxious, worried and distracted by all we have to do in our lives and forgetting to spend ample time with Jesus.
St Martha next appears in St John’s Gospel when she meets Jesus after her brother Lazarus’s death (St John 11: 21-27).
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you. Jesus said to her,
your brother will rise. Martha said to him, I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus told her, I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this? She said to him, yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
We see here St Martha’s deep faith and belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah and in His power even to raise the dead Lazarus. She has no doubts and surrenders in full confidence and trust to the Lord of life and death.
She finally appears again in St John’s Gospel (St John 12: 1-9) six days before the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate and Jesus is once again in the house of St Martha, Mary and Lazarus. All that St John tells us is that, there they made Him supper, Martha served. She simply serves Jesus and so should we Jesus and serve Him in others
On speaking about St Martha this is what Dorothy Day said. “If everyone were holy and handsome, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. But it was not Christ’s way for himself. Ask honestly what you would do when a beggar asked at your house for food.
Would you give it on an old cracked plate, thinking that was good enough? Do you think that Martha and Mary thought that the old and chipped dish was good enough for their guest?
It is not a duty to help Christ, it is a privilege. In what ways do you serve Christ others grudgingly or sparingly? How can you serve them the way Martha served Christ, putting her whole self into it”?