St. Martha is a saint I can really relate to. We know her from Luke’s Gospel as getting a little upset with her sister Mary because she’s not helping prepare for Jesus, their guest. In today’s Gospel from John, she’s “giving it” to Jesus for not getting there sooner and keeping their brother Lazarus from dying. Many of us can identify with Martha in many ways, and she is immortalized for both her love for Jesus and her strength of character, which is often seen as a weakness. She’s impetuous seeming; brash at times, tells it like it is (or as she sees it), her encounter with the Lord is one with expectation; Martha is upfront, clear and direct with our Lord Jesus. But no one in history would ever question her love. She loves the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul. Although her impetuousness may bring her to say things which had she more patiently taken the time and thought through – she might have seen the truth, her honest approach helps her grow (and she is a saint after all, so she continued to grow in life). She sees the truth because the Lord speaks to her, He answers her questions, He is also clear and direct with His dear friend Martha.
Love goes a long way. Martha loves Jesus as well as her family; that is also clear in every encounter we have with her. Her love is what leads her to be passionate, and passion when for good and virtuous things is a powerful thing in this world. In today’s Gospel, Martha’s passion is for the life of her brother. She believes in God’s Son and His power and authority, but she is honest about how she feels. It draws me back to the last days of my own mother’s life nearing death and something I learned that actually strengthened my own faith.
In the final days of her life, when I was coming to see clearly no “miracle” was on the way, in a moment of emotion and anger I lashed out at God. I was very angry and said things which were terrible but expressed honesty. I felt guilty almost immediately because I knew I was wrong in what I had said to the Lord. I asked forgiveness and confessed my own sinfulness later, for I love God and we don’t say hurtful things to the ones we love. The rush of guilt that came from accusing the Lord actually made me stop and think about what I said; there was a rush of insight the Lord gave me that helped me see things in a very different way, almost an immediate peace that the Lord was with my mother every step of the way. My faith was strengthened by what was revealed to me in her dying and death, which has extended to the dying and death of others too; those I’ve been with in my priestly ministry. I was honest with the Lord and He was honest with me. Up to then, I saw what I wanted to see – in my honest desire to know why, the Lord revealed to me what He wanted me to see and know. Before that experience I was open to what I wanted, after that experience I was open to the Lord.
Rarely have I gotten mad with the Lord, and that is not the point of my reflection – honesty is my point and honesty is what I realize the Lord desires of us in prayer. We need to be absolutely honest with the Lord who knows everything anyway if we are to receive the grace of insight. If we delude ourselves, we miss out on what the Lord might offer us. Martha is a most sincere and honest servant of the Lord. She teaches us this in her loving encounters with Jesus in the Gospel.