Memorial – Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Memorial – Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus

On January 26, 2021, Pope Francis ordered the inscription of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus into the General Roman Calendar to be celebrated as an obligatory memorial. Up unto now, the memorial of St Martha was celebrated on this day.

In its 2021 decree, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments 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. Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the one who humiliated death.”

Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus were evidently close friends of Jesus. The Gospels narrate several visits of Jesus to the homes of people like Simon the Pharisee and Zacchaeus the tax collector. But the visits to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus were marked by a simplicity; he came as a friend and not as ‘an honoured guest’. Such was the bond of friendship that they shared with Jesus, that on the death of their brother Lazarus, Martha and Mary called for one person they knew they could count on, Jesus. They were in need of both a saviour and a friend. As the Gospels narrate, Jesus was a marked man in Jerusalem when the sisters called him, yet he came because his friends needed him.

The memorial belongs to all three saints yet each one has something beautiful to share. Martha may often be reduced to a busy body in the kitchen with a short fuse that snapped at Jesus and called out her sister in public; but she was more than a moments outburst, she was a woman of faith. It was her statement of faith, her strong faith in Jesus that prompted her to assert, “even now, whatever you ask of God he will grant to you.” Jesus then said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27).

We don’t know who the older sibling of the three were but Mary sounds like she was the baby of the family. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to him while Martha fumed and fretted over a meal that had her “worried about many things.” Not to glorify prayer over work, but to highlight the need to do what we do joyfully, Mary is praised for having “chosen the better part”. She was certainly not helping in the kitchen but she was a hundred percent present to the person at whose feet she chose to sit at. Her devotion to Jesus is singular; John 12:1-8 describes Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet at Bethany as an act which he praised and defended her for.

But while Martha may have had an active speaking role in the Bible (In Luke and John’s Gospel) Mary was limited to her actions. She either sat at his feet or washed his feet with costly nard. Nard was expensive and she was more than generous with what would have set her back by a couple of months in wages. Her actions spoke louder than words; nothing was too expensive for her Lord. She also knew something about making an option to sit at his feet an option every Christian is also called to make, to sit and listen to Jesus.
And then there was Lazarus who seems to be the ‘third person’ of this trio who spoke not a word and performed not an action but who becomes an ‘object lesson’ for Christ when he raised him from the dead. The Gospels narrate that Christ wept over the fate of Jerusalem but the Gospels also tell us that Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus when he arrived at Bethany and was told that he had died. The friendship and love that Jesus and Lazarus shared was overtly evident; evident enough for the Jews to recognize it and proclaim, “See how much he loved him.” In their sight Jesus performed not just another miracle but raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. This was an act of love; for a moment, Jesus put his ministry on pause and allowed his friendship to take over.

Legends abound about the life of Lazarus after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is supposed to have left a written account of what he saw in the next world before he was called back to life. Some say he followed Peter into Syria. Another story is that despite being put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa, he, his sisters, and others landed safely in Cyprus. There he died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years.

It is certain there was early devotion to the saint. Around the year 390, the pilgrim lady Etheria talks of the procession that took place on the Saturday before Palm Sunday at the tomb where Lazarus had been raised from the dead. In the West, Passion Sunday was called Dominica de Lazaro, and Augustine tells us that in Africa the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus was read at the office of Palm Sunday.

Today is an excellent day to call your sibling and wish them a happy feast. Pope Francis, in giving us this beautiful day has given us in these first century saints, models for fraternal relationships in our homes. Saint Martha is also the patron saint of cooks, homemakers, and restaurant servers. Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are patron saints of siblings.

Spread the love ♥

You might also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *