Wednesday, July 29, 2009


“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”
by Johannes Vermeer, 1654-55


Additional Information about St. Martha[1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Martha

Readings and Commentary:

1 John 4:7-16

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.
Commentary on
1 Jn 4:7-16

Love as we share in it testifies to the nature of God and to his presence in our lives. One who loves shows that one is a child of God and knows God, for God's very being is love; one without love is without God. The revelation of the nature of God's love is found in the free gift of his Son to us, so that we may share life with God and be delivered from our sins. The love we have for one another must be of the same sort: authentic, merciful; this unique Christian love is our proof that we know God and can "see" the invisible God.
CCC: 1 Jn 4:8 214, 221, 733, 1604; 1 Jn 4:9 458, 516; 1 Jn 4:10 457, 604, 614, 620, 1428; 1 Jn 4:11-12 735; 1 Jn 4:14 457; 1 Jn 4:16 221, 733, 1604
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11
R. (2) I will bless the Lord at all times.
(9) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD,
and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him,
and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Fear the LORD, you his holy ones,
for nought is lacking to those who fear him.
The great grow poor and hungry;
but those who seek the LORD want for no good thing.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Commentary on
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11

Psalm 34 is a song of thanksgiving and a favorite for celebrating the heroic virtue of the saints. The psalmist, fresh from the experience of being rescued (Psalm 34:5, 7), can teach the "poor," those who are defenseless, to trust in God alone. This psalm, in the words of one being unjustly persecuted, echoes hope for deliverance and freedom. The promise of salvation for those who follow the Lord gives hope to the poor and downtrodden.

CCC: Ps 34:3 716; Ps 34:8 336

First Option
John 11:19-27

Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you." Jesus said to her,
"Your brother will rise."
Martha said to him,
"I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."
Commentary on
Jn 11:19-27

Within the story or the death and resurrection of Lazarus, we see the very human emotions of Jesus. They range from confidence in his relationship with the Father at the end of the story, to the all too human grief and fear, as he expresses his concern at what this revelatory event has cost his close friends, Martha and Mary, as they see their brother die. The encounter describes how Martha’s fear and remorse change to faith as she makes her profession of faith (“I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God”). This exchange of fear for faith, seen in the witnesses, is the same conversion the Gospel attempts to initiate in the Christian faithful in response to these events.

CCC: Jn 11 994; Jn 11:24 993, 1001; Jn 11:25 994; Jn 11:27 439

Second Option
Luke 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”
Commentary on Luke 10:38-42

In this encounter with Martha and Mary in St. Luke’s Gospel we see two distinct messages. First, we see the importance of the role of women and Jesus’ attitude toward them. Second we see the importance of listening to the word of God "Mary has chosen the better part".

The selection emphasizes the importance of listening to the teachings of the Lord. While in some early texts the Lord tells Martha there is “need for only a few things” or of one, the message is clear, Mary, in assuming the role of disciple (listening at the master’s feet) has chosen the correct or better role. Martha, concerning herself with the requirements of hospitality (old law) has chosen the lesser.

“Mystically (St. Gregory the Great, Moralia 2, 6): the two women signify two dimensions of the spiritual life. Martha signifies the active life as she busily labors to honor Christ through her work. Mary exemplifies the contemplative life as she sits attentively to listen and learn from Christ. While both activities are essential to Christian living, the latter is greater than the former. For in heaven the active life terminates, while the contemplative life reaches its perfection.” [4]


St. Martha’s role in the life of Christ resonates with those who have chosen to take an active role in service to the Church. Whether that role is in the form of lay or ordained ministry, active participation means we have chosen to assist with the labor involved in ministering to God’s people. When we choose that role, we frequently (especially over time) take ownership of the tasks, and when disruptive forces come along, or when it seems we have taken on more than our share, we assume the Martha persona we see in the Gospels.

To place this tendency in the form of analogy, Martha’s sister Mary represents the congregation we serve. They sit at the Lord’s feet, without all the turmoil and distraction of the tasks necessary to serve the guests in which Martha (representing those of us who serve) is involved. There are times when we long for that peaceful place at the Master’s feet. There are times when we would like to go to them and say: “Would you mind helping? There is much work to do here.”

It is at these times we must remember that other role that Martha had in the life of Christ. When Mary and the other mourners were sitting with their brother Lazarus who had died, it was Martha who met the Lord (she met the lord!) and spoke with him. Not only that, but after she chastised him (completely out of place to complain to the Lord, right? We would never do that), it was Martha who was honored to make the great profession of faith. What an exalted role she played in Christ’s life.

The life and ministry of St. Martha should be a constant reminder to all of us who work for Christ in our time on earth. There will be times when we too become tired and frustrated; when we pray for a little help in doing what we have set our hearts to do for God. Like St. Martha, we are very human and prone to these outbursts. Let us pray that when our work is done, and we at last are face to face with the Lord, we too many be allowed to proclaim to the heavens and earth “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God the one who is coming into the world.”


[1] The picture is “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer, 1654-55
[2] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] See NAB footnote on 1 John 4: 7
[4] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 129

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