1 John 4:7-16
According to the Roman Martyrology, not only do we celebrate today the memorial of Saint Martha, but we also commemorate her sister, Saint Mary of Bethany, and her brother, Saint Lazarus of Bethany.
Saint Luke introduces us to Martha and Mary as Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. Martha receives Jesus into her home. Mary, her sister, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching, while Martha was distracted with much serving. When Martha complains that Mary has left her to serve alone, Jesus responds: “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).
Saint John narrates two episodes with Martha and Mary. The first, on the occasion of the death of Lazarus (John 11:1-54), occurs sometime between the feast of the Dedication of the Temple in late December and the feast of Passover in early April. The second, the anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-7), takes place immediately before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and six days before Passover.
Our Gospel today displays Martha’s deep faith in Jesus. First, she believes had Jesus been present during Lazarus’ illness, Jesus could have healed him and her brother would not have died. Second, she believes that even though her brother has been dead for four days, Jesus can still work a miracle. She doesn’t ask directly for her brother to be restored to life, but entrusts everything completely to Jesus. Third, she believes in the resurrection on the last day. She knows that her brother, who heard the Word of God and believed in the Son, sent by the Father, will rise on that last day. Fourth, she believes that those who live in Jesus and believe in him will never die. Lastly, she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming in the world.
Jesus’ dialogue with Martha brings together many elements of Jesus’ teaching about eternal life in the Gospel of John. His prologue affirms that in Jesus, the Word of God, is life (John 1:3). Whoever believes in Jesus, the Son of Man, will have eternal life (John 3:15-16). He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him (John 3:36). Whoever drinks of the water that Jesus shall give, will never thirst; for the water will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).
Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son will give life to whom he will. Eternal life is given to those who hears the word of Jesus and believes in the Father who sent Jesus in the world. Those who believe do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life. The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:21-29). Unfortunately, there are some who refuse to come to Christ that they may have life (John 5:39-40).
The Father will give the people true bread from heaven, Jesus himself; this bread gives life to the world. The Father’s will is that Jesus lose nothing that the Father gave him, but raise it up at the last day: “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40) Whoever eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks Jesus’ blood has eternal life, and Jesus will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). After the Bread of Life discourse, Peter says to Jesus: “You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”.
At the feast of Dedication, before the death of Lazarus, Jesus also teaches that his sheep hear his voice and that he knows them, and that they follow him. Jesus gives his sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of his hand (John 10:28).
Martha’s words to Jesus show that she heard Jesus’ voice and believed in him whom the Father sent. Likewise, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and heard him teach about eternal life and believed in him. Both sisters believed that their brother, Lazarus, would rise on the last day. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will not allow his friend to perish and be snatched out of his hand.
Martha also is a model of generous service. It is interesting to see that when Jesus visits her home six days before Passover, Martha serves once again. This time, however, she does not complain about her sister. The Gospel says: “they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him” (John 12:2). Once again Mary is at the Lord’s feet; this time she anoints his feet with pure nard and wipes them with her hair. Martha knows that her sister has once again chosen the better part, and she isn’t flustered or anxious or troubled that she has been left to serve alone. She isn’t distracted by serving, but rather puts her heart and soul into serving her Lord Jesus and the others with love. She knows that she can handle it and that Mary and the others will help with the dishes, while they tell her all that Jesus said and taught in her home.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].