Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Martha, Martha!

There are very few instances in the gospels where someone is identified as a friend of Jesus. One occurs in John, chapter 11, verse 5, where we read, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus (their brother)" It would seem that Jesus was a frequent guest at Martha's home in Bethany, a village on the hillside across the Kedron valley, about two miles from Jerusalem. There are accounts of three visits in the scriptures, one in the gospel of Luke and two in the gospel of John.

In Luke, Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples to her home, and immediately sets about preparing a meal for them. Imagine her frustration when her sister Mary, instead of going to the kitchen to help, sits at Jesus' feet , listening to him speak. Martha doesn't speak to her sister, but to Jesus, and her attitude is fairly obvious in the words she chooses: "Don't you care that my sister has left me alone to do the serving? Tell her to help me!' Jesus responds gently, "Martha, Martha! You are are worried and upset about many things. But Mary has made the better choice, and it will not be taken from her. " In Martha, we can see ourselves, worried and distracted by all the cares and concerns we have in this world, and neglecting to spend some time listening to Jesus.

The next visit, narrated by John, occurs at Martha's home a few days after the death of Lazarus, her brother. A house full of mourners had come to grieve with her. When she hears that Jesus has arrived from Galilee, she leaves her guests, and goes to meet him. Again, her strong personality shows clearly in her choice of words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Then she takes a breath, swallows her frustration, and continues, "But I know that even now God will grant you whatever you ask of him." Jesus comforts her with words of hope: "Your brother will rise again." "I know my brother will rise again, in the resurrection at the end of time." Jesus continues, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die." Then he goes out to the garden tomb, where Lazarus has laid for four days, and calls him back to life. We meet Martha one last time at her home in Bethany, where she gave a dinner in Jesus' honor. While Jesus, his disciples, Lazarus and the other guests were reclining at table, Martha's sister Mary came and knelt at Jesus' feet and anointed them with nard, an expensive aromatic ointment. This caused quite a commotion, especially from Judas Iscariot. But there was not a word of complaint from the lady of the house, Martha. In fact, only two words are written about her: "Martha served". She isn't in the spotlight, she doesn't complain about the commotion. She simply serves Jesus.

Yet, wouldn't it be wonderful if when we finally meet Jesus face-to-face, what he had to say was: "You listened, and you served."

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