The Gospel according to 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.”
Reflection: Today’s memorial was formerly a memorial only in honor of Saint Martha. However, on February 2, 2021, Pope Francis expanded this memorial to include Martha’s sister and brother, Mary and Lazarus. Thus, today we celebrate these three siblings together.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus. They lived in Bethany, which was only a short distance from Jerusalem. Martha is remembered especially for the story in which she had been preparing a meal for Jesus, while her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him, leaving all the work to Martha. Martha complained to Jesus, urging Him to “Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ gentle rebuke of her request is quoted in the gospel of today.
Mary is also known for the above story in which she sat at Jesus’ feet. This has traditionally been seen as a symbol of contemplative prayer. She is also presented in John’s Gospel as the one who poured an entire jar of expensive perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair just six days before Jesus’ death. Though medieval tradition has at times associated Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala and with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36–50), most scholars agree today that these are three different Marys. In fact, one of the reasons Pope Francis added Mary of Bethany to this memorial today was so that she was honored with a liturgical memorial that did not confuse her with Mary of Magdala.
Lazarus is, of course, well known for the fact that Jesus brought him back to life after being dead and in the tomb for four days. Little else is mentioned about Lazarus in the Gospels except for the fact that the Pharisees wanted to arrest Lazarus at the time they were also seeking to arrest Jesus and that he was the sibling of Martha and Mary.
Why do we have this memorial honoring all three of these siblings together? When this memorial was established, the Congregation for Divine Worship said, “In the household of Bethany the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them.” By honoring these siblings together, we are especially reminded of the importance of remaining close to family and inviting Jesus into our family. Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived together and shared a common life of love. They invited Jesus into their family life, and He accepted their offer. Jesus’ choice to befriend this family is an indication of His desire to unite each family and to befriend each member of every family so as to be the central source of their shared love and unity. Family love is central to our human lives. And though not every family enjoys unity and mutual love, we must never forget that God wants to enter every family just as He did with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
Action of the Day: Lord, today, by your grace, I will plan to offer a simple gesture of hospitality, either to my family or by bringing a meal or treat to someone who is lonely.