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A Holy Week Defense of Martha

martha jesus lazarus

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Cari Donaldson - published on 04/15/14

Cooking and cleaning weren’t the only things Scripture records her doing.

Everyone is quick to disparage Martha. “Oh, don’t be a Martha,” you hear sometimes, as if “being a Martha” were a horrifying prospect.  Every time I hear that reading in Luke, I bristle a little bit.

Yes, I understand the point of what Jesus was trying to convey to His friend, but the homemaker and hostess in me still gets agitated.  Who is going to feed these people, Lord?  Are your Disciples going to get up and demonstrate that heart of service you’re trying to teach them by doing women’s work and cooking for all us?

It’s actually one of the most challenging passages in the Bible for me, which may be why I’ve missed the end of the story for so long.  I heard the ending last week at Mass, in the Lazarus story, but it took me another several days to realize that’s what it was.

To focus on the admittedly spectacular resurrection of Lazarus would be to miss the end of Martha’s story- the part where she shows us what will happen to us when we follow Christ.

Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.  Mary and Martha, now presumably without any male relative to care for them, are mourning him.  In Judaism, this initial period of mourning is called shiva, and it is a seven-day period with specific protocol.  One of those protocols is that the mourners don’t leave the house other than for certain, very specific reasons.  Going out to greet someone you’re told is coming is not one of those specific reasons, yet this is what we’re told Martha does.

Martha, previously-consumed-with-domestic-details-Martha, goes out to meet her friend and Master, flouting convention to do so.  When she sees Him, she speaks first from a place of grief, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  But grief and sorrow are not the sum total of her heart, because she follows it up with an act of faith, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of Him.”  She’s right, of course, and we all know how the story ends.

It’s this new Martha, the easily overlooked Martha, who I think is an excellent guide during Holy Week.  At the beginning of Lent, Jesus’ admonishment of her misaligned priorities is also an admonishment of us.  For the next forty days we were asked to wrestle with that; did we bristle under the critique, did we ignore it, or did we say, “Ok Jesus, how do I change?”

Now we’re in the midst of Holy Week, and Christ is coming.  Will we go out and meet him like Martha?  Have we managed to realign our hearts to focus on Him?  Even if we haven’t, even if we didn’t make the most of Lent, there is still hope.  Remember, the first words Martha spoke were words of mourning, of loss and disappointment.  It’s okay if those are your first words too.  Go and meet Him, and share your heart honestly.  

And then, follow Martha and make that leap of faith.  On the heels of your brokenness, let there be trust.  Trust that in all things, Jesus can do anything.  To be sure, “anything” is always in God’s time and in God’s manner, as Martha, Mary, and Lazarus can tell you, but faith in God is never wasted.

So imitate Martha for the rest of this Holy Week.  Unburden your heart to Jesus, and place your trust in Him.  After all, this is the season of resurrection, and we all can share in it.

Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at

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