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A Word In Defense of Martha

Discussion in 'The Saints' started by BrianK, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. BrianK

    BrianK Resident Kook, Crank, Curmudgeon - & Mod Staff Member


    A Word In Defense of Martha
    Alan L. Anderson
    Saturday, July 29, 2017

    There appeared in this space recently an excellent essay by the always readable, David Warren, grounded in and expanding on a point made by Cardinal Robert Sarah in his compelling, new book, The Power of Silence: “that we must be Mary before we play Martha.” This is much needed spiritual direction for our modern world, beset as it is with the Devil’s favorite tools of distraction, noise, and chaos.

    I don’t in any way disagree with the principle point that a true relationship with Christ – a relationship which can only be fostered in the prayer of silence – is a necessary condition for an actively fruitful life lived according to God’s plan for our salvation.

    And yet it seems whenever discussion of the Martha and Mary story comes up, Martha, in my view, gets something of a bad rap. A few years ago there appeared a book by Joanna Weaver entitled Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. I found the latter part of the title a bit perplexing. A “Martha” world? My first thought was, “shouldn’t we remember Martha is a saint.” And can the world, particularly our modern world, truly be labeled with the name of any saint?

    There’s often a certain reductionism at work here. We read the Martha and Mary story and equate Martha with the world and Mary with the spiritual. Many of us may have a tendency, understandably yet mistakenly, to restrict our knowledge of and, thus, our relationship with Martha to just this one act.

    It’s as if the only thing we knew about St. Peter were his three-fold denial of Christ on Good Friday while ignoring his proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God, his twenty-five years as the first pope, and his crucifixion – upside-down.

    Many know the Martha of Luke 10, fewer seem to have gotten to know the Martha of John 11 for it is evident, both in her actions and her words in John’s gospel, that she had taken to heart Jesus’ admonition given in Luke 10 that it was her sister, Mary, who had “chosen the better part.”

    Remember, the Martha in Luke 10 has just met Jesus. In fact, Luke is very clear that it was Martha who initially opened her home to Jesus. By the time of the events recounted in John’s Gospel, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have become Jesus’ good friends.

    Martha Reproving Her Sister Mary by Orazio Gentileschi, 1620 [The Met, New York]
    To set the scene, Lazarus has become seriously ill. Martha and Mary have sent word to Jesus, asking him to come. Jesus purposely waits two days before setting out. Hearing Jesus is coming, Martha, being the forthright woman of action to whom we were introduced in Luke, goes to meet him while, interestingly, Mary stays home.

    But it’s her first words, so Martha-ish in their directness, which proclaims the faith that has enthralled and filled her soul since we first met her in Luke. She bluntly, with at least a hint of admonishment on her own part, states, “Lord. . .if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

    Surely such faith can only result from Martha “becoming like Mary” while still remaining so quintessentially Martha.

    Interestingly, Martha’s blunt statement addresses a point made by both Cardinal Sarah and David Warren concerning the mystery of suffering. As Warren succinctly notes:

    Why does God remain silent in the presence of misery and evil; why does He allow the horror and suffering that falls on the just and the unjust alike? If He is there, why doesn’t He do something? This is, I think, the essential Martha question, expanded to become “inclusive” of the whole human condition.

    In John’s Gospel, Martha has further advanced “the Martha question” about suffering. She has moved from a simple question about why a great teacher would allow her sister to let her do the dishes to the question asked by great saints and Church fathers regarding the existence of suffering.

    And she will find the answer to that question, as all the saints do, “n the silence, kneeling before the Crucifix.” Martha will have the added privilege of finding it literally at the foot of the Cross.

    It is beautiful to watch the different approach Jesus takes with these two, saintly women. With Martha, he appeals to the intellect, asking her if she believes He is the Resurrection. She responds in a way similar to Peter, “Yes, Lord. . .I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”(v. 27)

    With Mary, He takes a different approach. Mary declares, like Martha, that had Jesus been there, her brother wouldn’t have died. But Jesus responds totally differently to her – he weeps.

    Here, writ large, is the Mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus is God (Martha), and Jesus has become Man and entered into our suffering (Mary).

    Today we are celebrating St. Martha’s feast day. Personally, I’ll be picking some mundane task, say, mowing the lawn or doing the dishes, and will offer it up as a prayer to St. Martha for her intercession that I, too, might come to know and love Christ as deeply as her words – and actions – in John 11 give testimony.
    djmoforegon, padraig, Byron and 3 others like this.
  2. soldier of christ

    soldier of christ Principalities

    I have had conversations with family members in regards to the Martha and Mary issue. A lot of their response is"someone has to be the Martha" and they view the Mary approach as a way of getting out of the daily duties.. When I reflect on their simplistic answer, I feel that they just don't want to contemplate deeper into their faith. Yes someone does need to be the "Martha" and someone does need to be the "Mary" . I view these as our roles in life, and we must fulfill our roles in the most holiest way giving glory to God in all we do. whether we are a mother, a housewife, or a nun.
    DeGaulle likes this.
  3. BrianK

    BrianK Resident Kook, Crank, Curmudgeon - & Mod Staff Member

    I think the point it that at times,we must be willing to be Martha, and at other times we will be Mary. We have to be willing to be both according to God's Will.
    AED, padraig, Mario and 1 other person like this.
  4. Jarg

    Jarg Archangels

    There is saint that said we can do what Martha does but with the contemplative spirit of Mary. We can do our daily tasks, work or leirsure, and do it contemplatin Christ, in His presence, offering each activity up to Him, for different intentions, like the salvation of souls, or for no intention at all, just doing those daily things for love of Him.
    AED, padraig and BrianK like this.
  5. Fatima

    Fatima Powers

    It reminds me of the movie The Song of Bernadette. The old nun who took care of Bernadette despised her for her holiness in suffering and treated her badly, while doing a the things necessary to assist her in her suffering. That is, until she found out the disease Bernadette bore (TB) in silence. From that moment on she served Bernadette till his last day's with a new profound joy and enthusiasm for she seen Christ in Bernadette's tremendous sufferings.

    Perhaps Martha had some of this in her while waiting on others. She did not recognize the divinity of Jesus at the moment that Mary did.
    AED and padraig like this.
  6. soldier of christ

    soldier of christ Principalities

    I often contemplate Jesus's response about Martha's worrying and anxiety. Was the point we should take away from this story that we worry excessively, not having truth faith and trusting in God, or that we need to put God first in everything we do. Or perhaps our choices in life should center on God.
    padraig likes this.
  7. padraig

    padraig New Member

    I remember years ago on another Catholic forum some ladies were discussing this and I was a little taken aback with how angry they got with Mary for, 'Doing nothing', when she was listening to Jesus . This surprised me a little as Jesus Himself said that Mary has , 'Taken the better half'. :) So that they were making an implicit criticism of Jesus for, 'Encouraging', her to be lazy too. I suppose the reason why they became so annoyed was that they could see people sitting doing nothing in their own personal lives and translated this grievance to Martha and Mary. I suppose this is a warning to us all to let Scripture instruct us rather than for us to instruct Scripture. If Jesus said it was fine for Mary to sit still then we have to accept that it was.

    I always find it touching that Martha, Mary and Lazarus were best friends with Jesus and are pointed out so centrally in the Resurrection of Jesus. It reminds me of St John , the beloved disciple. Does Jesus love some people more than others? Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it , maybe some people simple open their hearts more to His love. Mary by sitting there was sitting right beside the fire of God's love, rather like a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Yet it is hard not to sympathise with Martha. We may be sure if Jesus came to visit He did not come alone. There must have been a real crowd. This in the days before modern cookers, washing machines and cleaning equipment. This back in the days when womens role would have been domestic. In a sense neither women was right or wrong. What changed things and wrong footed Martha was that it was Jesus who entered the house.

    I notice in the spiritual life there is often a tendency to establish a dichotomy a judgemental separation of , 'That's right and that's wrong', when often things are more shaded than that.
    BrianK likes this.
  8. AED

    AED Powers

    I have been reading through these responses and appreciating them. I think this episode is extremely provocative for all sorts of reasons. I seem to carry within both Martha and Mary depending on circumstances. My sister has always been a Martha and not too patient sometimes when she feels put upon and grieved by others' lack of help. She can work herself up into a proper grievance and become very testy. (She is my older sister and I bet Mary is Martha's younger sister) but in fairness I have probably left her to do everything more than once completely unaware of having done so. My sister is anxious and worried about many things. I see it in her. I think Jesus was trying to gently tell Martha that it is worry and anxiety that keep a soul from God. Trust in God to be our help and our Father remove the testiness. It will all get done. Or if it doesn't smile and say "oh well" and have a good laugh. But that takes a lot of letting go. I bet this wasn't the first time Mary had done this. Kind of like the older brother in the Prodigal Son Martha was fed up with what seemed to her a fairness issue and trying to get Jesus to take her part. Jesus like the Father in the parable is saying "it is not about fairness it is about love. You love in your way by making sure we all get fed. Mary loves in her way by giving her undivided attention. " the better part perhaps is just "being with the Lord" whether listening to him or serving him. It is the anxiousness and worry that are not "the better part". Maybe??? Just speculating.
    padraig, BrianK and sterph like this.
  9. soldier of christ

    soldier of christ Principalities

    AED, I like your take on this. It took me a long time to come to grips with this story of Mary and Martha. Very similar in my mind to the parable of the men being asked to work go and work in the vineyard at different times of the day but all being paid the same wage, and then the one man being upset that he work much harder than some. I could never get past the fairness issue. But then one day it was like a lightning bolt struck me. If we have true love of God and neighbor in our heart and soul, this is what we should desire. Everyone to come to God, no matter the road they had to take to get there should not be weighed on our scales. We should all be happy that they made it back to the glory of God.
    AED and BrianK like this.

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