Jesus loved Martha, and her sister,Mary and Lazarus
Hospitality, friendship, faith, love, service are subjects which quickly spring to mind when we think of the sisters, Martha and Mary together with their brother Lazarus in their home at Bethany on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, two miles from Jerusalem.
From the SS. Luke and John Gospels we know that this family gave hospitality to our Lord, and it is not hard to imagine that it was a home where Christ came as a dear friend. Here Our Lord would have taught them much about the kingdom of God. And so in giving of their hospitality was fulfilled those words of John's prologue, "But as many as received him, to them He gave power to become the children of God John 1.12" Of those times of sharing their home with Jesus, the most poignant would have been just prior to His death, and where Mary's anointing foreshadowed Calvary.
Through their intimate relationship with Christ, both Mary and Martha's faith was probably much deeper than any of the apostles. This was illustrated after their brother Lazarus' death when both expressed their faith in Christ. "If you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11.21, 32). But there was more, far more than a belief in Christ's healing. Martha assumed an apostolic role with her messianic exclamation. "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who should come into the world." Next to Thomas' exclamation after the Resurrection, "My Lord and My God", it is the most profound statement of faith and belief in the Gospels. The pinnacle of our Lord's miracles is the raising of Lazarus from death after four days. Indeed this whole episode is to manifest Christ as the Resurrection of Life juxtaposed against the enmity of the Jewish religious leaders scheming for his death. Loving this family the way He did, it must have been with mixed blessings He left them to set out on that final trip to Jerusalem.
Where were they as their Lord trod to Calvary? Were they among the women watching from afar? Were they amongst those women waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in that gathered assembly in Jerusalem? Of course we do not have a definite "yea" to either of these propositions, but it is reasonable to suppose they were amongst the weeping women of Jerusalem and then amongst those in prayer awaiting the culmination of our Lord's earthly ministry, in order to be the Church. These extraordinary sisters together with Mary Magdalen and the other women would have been part of that early church in Jerusalem, and ministering to its various needs in the spirit of their Lord.
Both Martha and Mary in their own different way expressed their love and loving service for their Master. This was no better illustrated in Mary's gift, a gift of the most extravagant nature. It was also shown in the way that she liberally poured it over Jesus' feet and then delicately and tenderly wiped the excess off with her hair. Did this anointing with costly oils and spices reveal that she had understood her Lord's teaching better than the Apostles' when He had spoken of His death? Martha too manifested her love by always trying to be a gracious host and by providing meals.
Both sisters showed how important it is to be 'yourself' with the Lord, so He can do what must be done with us. Martha did not hide her impatient and irritating nature, and so she is lovingly chided by Jesus not to be so worked up about things, whilst Mary was prepared to let all defences down to show her Master what she felt in her heart, even though this would make her vulnerable to others as Judas' scorn soon showed.
Taken together these two sisters illustrate the Benedictine principal of a balanced life between work and prayer. In saying to Mary she had "the better part", Our Lord is surely illustrating that we cannot accomplish very much without prayer. Our day must begin first with sitting at our Lord's feet, being with Him, soaking in His teaching and presence through the guidance of the Holy Spirit for what lies ahead.
What can we offer Our dear Lord today? What gift of love would be appropriate for all that our Blessed Saviour was willing to do for us? Are not these two of the most important questions we should ask ourselves each day? Not what do we owe our Lord, but what are we willing to offer to Him?
What can I give Him poor as I am
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb
Say what can I give Him
Give Him your heart. (C. Rossetti)