By Stephanie Landsem
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. (Luke 10:41-42)
I’ve always been drawn to Martha—I felt for her when she was rebuked by Jesus, because she was worried about many things. Haven’t we all had our worries and doubts crowd our thoughts and take over our actions, when we know we should be trusting God instead of ourselves?
Mary, of course, is the one that Jesus tells us to emulate, and rightly so. Mary chooses “the better part” and we should, too. Because of this passage in scripture, we sometimes look at Mary as the holier sister, while Martha is an example of “what not to do.” But there was more to Martha’s story. A lot more. Martha’s story shows a transformation, just as inspiring as the example of Mary.
Some time after the dinner at Simon’s house—the scene where Jesus tells her that she is “anxious and worried about many things,” Martha’s brother Lazarus falls ill and dies. Not only that, but when he is ill, she and Mary send for Jesus to heal him. But Jesus doesn’t come. He knows his friend Lazarus is sick and dying, and yet he does not come to heal him, as they know he can.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. (John 11:5-6)
How do you think that makes Martha feel? Her friend—the one who’d eaten at her table—had abandoned her family in their time of need.
And yet, Martha does not dwell on the fact that Jesus did not come when she sent for him. Sometime between the dinner party and Lazarus’ illness, Martha has changed. Perhaps she took the words of Jesus into her heart and pondered them. Perhaps she put into practice “the better part” as he had instructed. We’ll never know exactly what changed Martha’s heart, but we see that transformation when Jesus did finally come to Bethany four days after Lazarus died.
No longer was Martha concerned with propriety. Mary stayed in the house, weeping with the women as was customary during a time of mourning, but Martha did not. Martha went out to meet Jesus on the road as he came to Bethany, and she didn’t say what we could imagine would come to her lips at such a sorrowful time: “Jesus, we waited for you. We believed in you. Why didn’t you come?”
No. This time she showed trust in her friend Jesus. She met him on the hot dusty road and said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she continued, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
She trusted her friend Jesus, and put not only herself, but her brother and sister in his merciful hands. Finally, she professed her faith in him in the clearest possible words: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
What a transformation! Martha proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God, even after he has seemingly let her brother Lazarus die. She trusts that whatever he asks, it will be done, and it will be good. For her, for her brother, and for Mary.
If Martha can change so dramatically, so can we. There will be days when we are worried and anxious, when the demands of life seem to leave us little time to sit at the feet of Jesus. That is when we can say, not “Where were you when I needed you?” But instead, “Yes, Lord. I believe.” and put ourselves in our friend Jesus’ loving and merciful hands.
About the Author:
Stephanie Landsem is a wife, mother, lifelong Catholic, and author of authentic biblical fiction. The Living Water series (The Well, The Thief, and The Tomb, A Novel of Martha), published by Simon & Schuster, is based on encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John. For more information about her books, visit Stephanie’s website.
Beautiful following to your latest book, The Tomb. For those who haven’t read these Living Water series, you are missing great messages. The books are available at the St. Ambrose Gift Store. They make great Lenten readings.
Funny you posted this. This past weekend we had a Day of Prayer for our catechumens and we read this gospel. What caught my attention was the “role reversals” between the sisters.
In Luke’s dinner passage it was Mary at Jesus’ feet leaving Martha to do all the housework. Whereas in the raising of Lazarus story we see Martha going-out to greet/rebuke(?) Jesus and Mary stayed home with the weepers.
When both Mary and Martha told Jesus that Lazarus would not have died had He come earlier, were they in essence scolding Jesus as well? Did they have an expectation that He would help Lazarus in his time of need?
There is no doubt that they had great faith in Jesus and an understanding of the resurrection. But could there have also been a little bit of selfishness on their parts has to what Jesus should do?