O Lord, even as You said to Martha: “I Am the Resurrection; so You fulfilled Your word in action, by calling back Lazarus from Hades. Resurrect me, also, for I am dead thru passions. I beseech You, compassionate One who loves mankind.
~Lauds, Orthros, Saturday of Lazarus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes
Jesus said to her, “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world.
Now as they went on their way, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10: 38-42
There are two pieces of Scripture with this reflection. The second one of them gives part of the backstory on Mary and Martha. We read this passage of Scripture, Luke 10:38-42, on the major feast days of the Virgin Mary, so we hear it several times a year. There are many ways to interpret this passage. The obvious message is that the one needful thing, the one thing needed above all other things in life, is a relationship with Jesus Christ because that sets us up for eternal life. Martha was distracted with serving and was so busy that she didn’t have time to sit and listen to the words of the Lord.
Some have discounted the passage as a criticism of those who work, i.e. “we can’t sit around and pray all day.” But this is not the meaning at all. Work is necessary for life. God created us in order to work. It is true, however, that many times, we are so consumed with work that we forget to make time to pray and worship, we stop being generous with our time and we forget to look at those around us who might need some help.
Another interpretation of this story, which I really like, is that maybe Jesus was trying to tell Martha that she was too obsessed with the food, that He just came over for fellowship. In contemporary terms, imagine Martha slaving over the grill and Jesus saying “we could just order out for pizza.” Many times we are stressed about things unnecessarily. Whatever things stress us out, in the big picture, many of these things end up being unimportant.
The passage from John 11:25-27 shows us not only the divinity of Jesus but in some way shows us the “redemption” of Martha. Jesus says “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believe in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (v. 25-26) As we will see in the next reflection, Jesus will make good on this “I AM” saying by raising Lazarus from the dead. In doing so, He shows us His full divinity. Because it is God Who gives life, and He is the only one Who can restore a life that has ended, either through a miraculous resurrection from physical death or by giving eternal life in heaven.
He asks Martha “Do You believe this?” And Martha responds “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world.” (v. 27) This “confession” is huge because it is dangerous. Remember from the last reflection that the use of the word “Jews” in John 11:19 was intentional. Jesus was going to reveal one of His Messianic signs, raising the dead, in the presence of the Jews, both common people and the Jewish leaders. We know that both were present. Thus, Martha confessing Jesus as the Christ was a tremendous act of both faith and bravery. We read in John 12: 9-11 that the chief priests wanted to put Lazarus to death, in addition to Jesus, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” (12:11) This confession of faith by Martha could have gotten her into similar hot water with them.
We will meet many people on our Holy Week journey. The most well-known ones are Jesus, Lazarus, Peter, Judas, Pontius Pilate, the Centurion, the repentant thief, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nikodemos. On the first day of Holy Week, the Saturday of Lazarus, the major figure is Lazarus. However, Martha is an important and often forgotten person in the Holy Week narrative. And the reason why she is so important is that her story is our story. None of us is going to preside over Jesus’ crucifixion like the centurion or bury Him like Joseph and Nikodemos. Hopefully, we will not deny Him like Peter or betray Him like Judas. However, all of us will struggle with the balance between work, family, and faith, just the way Martha struggled. And there will be points, perhaps even critical points in our lives, when we will have to choose between the things of the world and the things of God. This happens in small ways on a daily basis. Most likely, there will be a few critical forks in the road of life as well. And this is where our Christian character will be built and ultimately revealed.
Martha might have gotten it wrong the day she was hosting the dinner for Jesus. However, she got it really right when it counted. She confessed Jesus as Lord at a time that was both critical for His mission and dangerous for her. In the end, Martha is actually whom we hope to be.
The joy of all men, the Truth Who is Christ our God, the light and the life, the resurrection of the world has appeared unto those on earth, in that He is benevolent, becoming the type of Resurrection, and granting divine remission unto all. (Kontakion, Saturday of Lazarus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Stay faithful in your “Martha” moments, both the mundane ones and especially during the serious and critical ones.