Martha, the Anxious Server
Nothing was recorded about the early life of St. Martha. Thankfully, we could see a glimpse of her life through the Gospels. What is clear about Martha is that she was from Bethany, a small village about two miles from Jerusalem. She had two siblings, Mary and Lazarus. It was evident that Jesus was a close friend to them.
Martha was mentioned in three Gospel passages. These passages show the type of friendship these siblings had with the Lord Jesus. The first instance, in the Gospel according to Luke (10:38-42), we could find how Martha received Jesus in their home. She was described as a very busy guest master, worrying herself with serving Jesus. While she was frantically preparing something for Jesus, her sister Mary sat beside the Lord’s feet and listened to Him speaking, without being bothered by her sister’s business. Martha was worrying so much about the work, she did not have time to enjoy being with Him and listening to His words. Martha complained about how her sister was not helping her serve. Jesus replied to her, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is a need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus had put Martha’s over-worrying into the right context who emphasized the importance of contemplating Him before all things.
The second instance, in the Gospel according to John (11:1-44), we could find Martha and her sister Mary mourning the death of their brother Lazarus. He had died for four days when Jesus went to Bethany. She told the Lord that if He was there with them earlier, their brother would have not died. But Jesus gave her a revelation: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” to which Martha replied, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27). Moved by this kind of faith, Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb and ordered that it be opened. Martha’s faith was confirmed by Jesus through raising Lazarus back to life.
Martha’s “New” Serving
The third and last instance, again in the Gospel according to John (12:1-2), six days before the Passover, we could find Jesus in the house of the three siblings. They hosted Him for dinner, probably a thanksgiving celebration for such a miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Once again, we could see in these passages that Martha was serving again. But this time, her serving was different from the first. Her serving was infused with her faith and peace.
Early traditions say that after the first persecutions of Christians, Martha, Mary and Lazarus and other disciples left their own land and went to France, arriving in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in Provence, where they brought the Christian faith. In Bethany, now called El-Azariyeh or “the place of Lazarus”, we can find the tomb of Lazarus and a sanctuary built upon the ruins of Byzantine and Crusader structures. This is believed to be the house of Martha. Her feast day is celebrated on July 29.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Martha
- St. Martha is the patron saint of housewives, servants, waiters and cooks.
- St. Martha is commonly regarded as typifying the active Christian life as contrasted with her sister Mary, who typifies the contemplative life.
- The name “Martha” in Aramaic means “lady or mistress of the house”.
- St. Martha is also venerated in the Eastern Christianity, Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church.
- St. Martha is depicted in Christian art with a dragon trampled by her feet, which merited her the nickname “the dragon slayer”! This was according to a legend about her, who fought, caught and tied up a “dragon” (probably a crocodile) that killed many people.
Prayer to St. Martha
O God,whose Son called Lazarus to life from the grave.and was pleased to be welcomed in Martha’s house as a guest,grant, we pray,that, serving faithfully our brother and sisters,we may merit, with Mary, to be fed by meditating on your words.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.