St. Martha, whose feast day falls on July 29th, has something of a poor reputation. The first thing people tend to think about when they hear her name is her being chastised by the Lord. Her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word while Martha was busy doing housework and serving their guests. She asks Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me. But the Lord answered, ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.” (Luke 11:40-42) Indeed, there are whole books on how to be more like Mary and less like Martha. Yet, St. Martha is also held in high esteem by the Church. It is important to know all of her story and to appreciate her for who she was.
The Gospel of John shows a different side of her. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus has died. Mary remains in the house, one can only presume she is paralyzed with grief. Martha, on the other hand, runs out to meet the Lord and holds him accountable for his delay. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but even now I know that God will grant whatever you ask of him.” (John 11:21-22) She is a take charge, practical-minded woman, but she also has complete faith in Jesus and His Father in heaven. Jesus then tells her that her brother will rise again, and Martha responds, “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” It is a statement of faith, but Jesus asks more of her. He asks her to affirm that he is, in fact the Son of God. “̔I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Sod of God, the one who was to come into this world.’” Her faith is rewarded and Lazarus is raised from the dead.
The last time we see Martha in the Gospels, she is once again serving. It is shortly before Jesus dies. “Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table.” This time, her sister brings in a pound of costly ointment and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This time, Martha offers no complaint. She allows Mary to serve and love Jesus in her way while she serves and loves in her own way.
Saint Martha is the patron of housewives, servants, waiters and cooks. She is a role model for all of us who serve others (which should really be all of us.) Even with the limited information we are given about her in the Gospels, she grows as a person. She moves from a martyr-type attitude, to a position of complete faith, to a willingness to love and serve without complaint. She invites each of us to do the same. We should look up to St. Martha for her example of trust and service. While we should certainly strive to imitate her sister Mary as well, Martha stands on her own two feet as a spiritual role model. The beauty of having so many saints is that there is someone for each of us to look up to and identify with.