Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nevertheless She Persisted: St. Martha's Profession of Faith

Today is the feast of St. Martha, that woman so often maligned as NOT having "chosen the better part" because she insisted on the tasks of hospitality while Jesus was in her home. She is portrayed in Luke 10:38-42 as a querulous, busy woman, who complained that her sister Mary was not helping with the tasks of serving the 13 guests who had suddenly appeared in their home.

But that is not all we know of Martha in scripture. In John 11:19-27, the first choice for today's Gospel at Mass, she runs to meet Jesus, who has finally come to see Lazarus, having learned he has died.

First, she scolds the Lord with "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  However, she continues with "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." She is setting the stage for the possibility that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. Why? Because she believes.

After an exchange during which she assures him she believes that Lazarus will rise on the last day, Jesus says to 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?"
Never one to hold back, Martha replies with a strong and unequivocal profession of faith: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,  the one who is coming into the world."  Recognize the words of this exchange? They are paraphrased in the final two verses of the popular hymn by Suzanne Toolan, "I am the Bread of Life."

It's no wonder the Church chooses this reading for the Third Scrutiny for those entering the Church as catechumens. This is not just about the raising of Lazarus, but about the power of faith in Jesus Christ.

It's time we rehabilitated our vision of Martha and realized that to see her as the too-busy complaining sister is reductive of her significance. She was a woman unafraid to step out of her culture's preferred subservient role for women to confront a man when she felt it was warranted. Indeed, she is the poster-child for today's "Nevertheless she persisted" meme.

In the medieval world, she was portrayed as the saint of Christian service, but also as a strong force in defense of truth, sometimes shown with holy water and an aspergillium. The French legend still celebrated in Provencal today that she tamed the man-eating dragon Tarasque, which she then led around on a thin chain like a pet, is a vision of a woman of power. Legend even has it that Jesus Christ himself came down to celebrate her funeral Mass.  

Today, on her memorial, remember the woman who stood up to Jesus and boldly told him it was his fault her brother had died, but that she believed Jesus could do anything. What a model of faith - and persistence - for today's doubtful world!