Saint for he day: Martha (sister of Mary & Lazarus) 1st Century
Exodus 24:3-8 – Psalm 50 – John 1:19-27 or Luke 10:39-42
Today the Church gives us a choice of Gospels for the “memorial” of St. Martha: the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11) or the “Martha, Martha” dinner story from Luke. These two choices of Gospel readings show us the two sides of today’s saint, Martha: her heart-felt concern over the death of her brother, Lazarus –“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) And her upset in being left to do all the work for a dinner party for Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving?” (Luke 10:40)
Maybe it’s important for us to understand both sides of these feelings: the real pain and loss when a close family member dies; and the “call to service” which is key in Jesus preaching throughout the Gospels. Once again, it’s not a question of “either or” but, rather, a matter of “both and.” All of us must develop an ability to “hear” what Jesus says to us about His resurrection and how it applies to all of us. Martha is able to make a profound act of faith in the closing of the John Gospel: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 11:27) The secret to her ability to make this statement of faith must have come to her while she was busy preparing the meal for Jesus. The Benedictine model comes to mind: “Ora et Labora” – “Prayer and labor.” This made me think of the German sisters who did the cooking at our House of Studies when I first entered the Dominicans. They always traced a cross on the bottom of a loaf of bread before beginning to slice it. A simple reminder to acknowledge a prayer even in the simplest act of slicing bread. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “Stopping to pick up a pin on the floor out of love can convert a soul.” I make my own correlation to that statement and say, “when you toss a scrape of paper into the waste basket – and miss – and don’t go over to pick it up you’ll never become a saint.” When you read the stories of “saints” you have to see that most started out as simple people – often not enjoying any kind of notoriety. They usually had an edge on being helpful in the most common areas of life often doing the simplest of tasks. Their secret seems to have been their ability to see Christ in the people that they were trying to help. Martha, in fixing a meal for Jesus is told, “not to worry” and her serving Jesus allowed her to be able to make that statement of faith, at the close of today’s Holy Gospel, “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 11:27)
I think today’s commemoration of St. Martha is packed with hidden secrets about becoming a saint if we just look a little deeper. Amen!