Martha was amongst the closest friends of Jesus, and was mentioned in the Gospels several times (Lk 10:38-42, Jn 11:1-53 and 12:1-9). In our first meeting with Martha, we hear her complain about her sister Mary for not helping her with the preparation of food to welcome Jesus. Next, we read about her sorrow over her brother Lazarus’ death and her plea for Jesus to raise him to life. Finally, when we read about Martha again, she was only mentioned in two words: Martha served.
So what can we as educators learn from Martha and how is she relevant in our capacity to serve?
Building a relationship with Jesus
When Jesus first arrived in Martha’s house, Martha was the one who started preparing to welcome Jesus. During Jesus’ time in Judea, women were expected to serve the men at home. Martha, being the responsible host, quickly set about doing her work to serve Jesus. However, in her preparation, she noticed that her sister Mary was not doing her part to help. Instead of confronting her directly, she chose to take her resentment to Jesus. This tells us how close their relationship was as it would be unusual for most of us to complain about our own sibling to a guest. In choosing to voice her frustration to Jesus, she was able to vent her displeasure without causing a strain in her relationship with her sister.
Upon dispensing her complaint, Martha received very good advice from Jesus who informed her that Mary had chosen the ‘better part’. What does this mean? Did it mean that Martha was in the wrong to have gone about her work instead of soaking in Jesus’ presence like Mary? No. We are told that Jesus loved her just the same. But perhaps her responsibility would not have resulted in her feeling resentful if she had spent time with Jesus first.
Our work will always be there but how we feel about it would depend on whether we spend time in prayer first. To be good teachers to our students, we must first spend time in prayer, asking Jesus to direct our daily work and to show us the knowledge He would like to impart to His young people.
Entrust your students to Him
Next, we meet Martha in sorrow. Her brother Lazarus was very ill and in need of Jesus. Word was sent to the latter to come and heal his friend. Oddly enough, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before proceeding to Bethany. When he finally arrived in Bethany, Martha went out of the house of mourning to meet him.
Here, we see a Martha who had learnt from her earlier experience. Previously, she went about her work but felt resentful and took that resentment to God. Now, she was able to leave her house and seek Jesus. Her ability to listen to God and to put Him first is evident here. In fact, her faith was so strong that she told Jesus “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask Him (Jn 11:21).” And indeed, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, publicly glorifying God through his miracle. Martha has taken a step further in the development of her faith.
Martha was confident of God’s power over death, like the Centurion who asked for his servant’s recovery: “Speak and he shall be healed” (Mt 8:8). We often worry about how our students would do in exams, or how they well they will do in life. But do we trust God to care for their needs? Being Catholic educators, we are called to have faith in Jesus’ love. We only need to do our best – and entrust our efforts to his prevailing mercy.
Be at peace
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, mourning turned into celebration in their home. Martha, now confident in having her prayer answered, went about her work quietly. She was no longer resentful of her responsibilities, but at peace with them. She embraced her role in serving guests and welcoming them as part of God’s family – one she has always been a part of.
We too, are called to be at peace with our responsibilities. Instead of being excessively stressed out about our duties, or how well we are performing at work, why not take some time to reflect on the good that we do daily? Doing something as simple as comforting a student in need will go a long way in strengthening God’s family.
The key lesson we can learn from St Martha is that we are all loved by God. Like the brother of the prodigal son, we may be upset that our obedience to God has gone unnoticed. But St Martha’s walk with Christ has shown otherwise: when the faithful prays, their prayers are answered. Knowing that, we can all go about our work quietly in full confidence that whatever we ask for, God will answer.