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Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Models of Friendship

by Joel V. Ocampo

photo from Mr. Cente Edralin, camarero of St. Mary of Bethany and Mr. Benjamin Miranda, camarero of St. Martha

Every year, the Church celebrates during July 29 the Memorial for St. Martha alone. However, on January 26, 2021, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a Decree on the Celebration of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus in the General Roman Calendar. According to the decree, “The traditional uncertainty of the Latin Church about the identity of Mary - the Magdalene to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection, the sister of Martha, the sinner whose sins the Lord had forgiven - which resulted in the inclusion of Martha alone on 29 July in the Roman Calendar, has been resolved in recent studies and times, as attested by the current Roman Martyrology, which also commemorates Mary and Lazarus on that day. Moreover, in some particular calendars the three siblings are already celebrated together.”

The decree further says, “The Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis, considering the important evangelical witness they offered in welcoming the Lord Jesus into their home, in listening to him attentively, in believing that he is the resurrection and the life, and accepting the proposal of this Dicastery, has decreed that 29 July be designated in the General Roman Calendar as the Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus.” Thus, we now celebrate the Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus during July 29 of every year.

Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus live in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. We know that the Lord was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and preached in Galilee, the Northern Part of Israel. Whenever Jesus goes to Jerusalem, (Southern portion of Israel), he stays in the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany. In short, in this household in Bethany, the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. For this reason, the Gospel of John states that he loved them (Jn. 11:5). Martha generously offered him hospitality (Lk. 10:40; Jn. 12:2), Mary listened attentively to his words (Lk. 10:39, 42); and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of Jesus (Jn. 11:44).

From these three siblings, we can learn three lessons that we can use to grow in an intimate friendship with the Lord:

  1. St. Martha of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Serves

  2. St. Mary of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Listens

  3. St. Lazarus of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Trusts

St. Martha of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Serves

Many of us know about the story in the Gospel (Luke 10:38, 40), where Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. While Jesus was in their house, Martha did the serving. After Jesus raised Lazarus, the siblings gave dinner for him there, and Martha served (John 12:2).

Based on the story in the Gospel written by St. Luke, we often see St. Martha as a person who complains about her service. To understand Martha’s reaction, we need to recognize also that the association of women with the ministry of Jesus is most unusual in the light of the attitude of first-century Palestinian Judaism toward women. It is remarkable for first-century Palestinian Judaism that a woman like Mary of Bethany would assume the posture of a disciple at the master’s feet. Thus, St. Martha is like saying, “Mary, why are you seated there? Our culture prohibits us from becoming disciples of the Rabbi. Why don’t you just join me in preparing meals for them?”

Though the culture set barriers between them, St. Martha proves to be a model of friendship that serves. Because of her service to the Lord, she was known as patron saint of waiters, cooks, ushers, and those who provide food services and hospitality. In addition, apart from the Twelve, Martha also has this confession about Jesus: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn. 11:27). Because of their friendship, Martha knew the Lord very well.

St. Mary of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Listens

Before the scene of Jesus’ visit in the house at Bethany, St. Luke narrates to us about the Samaritan inhospitality (Lk. 9:51-56), the would-be followers of Jesus (Lk. 9:57-62), the mission and return of the seventy-two disciples (Lk. 10:1-12, 17-20), Jesus’ disappointment on the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Lk. 10:13-16), and how a scholar of the law stood up to test Him that led to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Imagine the Lord, tired and exhausted from all of these. When He came to the house of the siblings, I would like to believe that Jesus began telling stories of what previously happened. He is like saying to His friends in a casual way, “Did you know? On our way here, we tried to stay for a while in a Samaritan village, but they refused to welcome us. Then these Boanerges [pointing to James and John] suggested calling fire from heaven to consume them [Lk. 9:54]. See how aggressive they are [said while laughing]?”

I could also imagine the Lord, smiling while narrating to the siblings how His would-be followers changed their mind when they realized the reality of the mission. Imagine also the joy of Jesus while narrating the mission and return of the seventy-two disciples, and His disappointment on the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Think also of how Jesus was able to draw a lesson on the Good Samaritan after their own rejection in a Samaritan village. He is like teaching the disciples and the siblings, “Even if other people rejected you, always look at the good side of everyone.”

In all of these stories, St. Mary of Bethany sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak. Imagine her listening to every story of the Lord, as friends listen to the stories of one another. Thus, we can say that St. Mary of Bethany is a model of friendship that listens. Furthermore, realizing that their friend Jesus was tired, and to show their appreciation for raising Lazarus back to life, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn. 12:3).

St. Lazarus of Bethany, Model of Friendship that Trusts

The Gospel written by John (11:1, 3-6), tells us,

A man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So, the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this, he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.

Martha and Mary already sent word to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, but he remained for two days in the place where he was. No wonder, Martha and Mary have the courage to say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21-22, 32). It is like Martha and Mary were saying, “Bakit ngayon ka lang dumating? Akala ko ba matalik na magkakaibigan tayo?” Because Jesus loved them, He kept silent even if He has the right to say, “You know that the Jews were just trying to stone me, and you want me to go back here?” (cf. Jn. 11:8). Instead, He just kept quiet and accepted the lamentations of the two.

As for Lazarus, I believe that as a human, in times of his illness, he also experienced depression and the feeling of being abandoned by a friend. Most likely, thoughts like this entered his mind: “I thought Jesus was our friend. He healed many people, why can’t he come to heal me?” However, he knew that Jesus loved them, thus he placed his trust in Him, as friends trust one another.

Lazarus’ hope and trust was not wasted. Imagine, he had been dead for four days when Jesus came, but when the Lord said, “Lazarus, come out!”, he indeed came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth (Jn. 11:43-44). I see this story like the stories of real friends who call on each other saying, “Wake up! Let us go!” In all of these hardships of illness and death that Lazarus experienced, he is for us a model of friendship that trusts. He placed his trust in the Lord and God did not disappoint him.

Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Models of Friendship

I would like to believe that all of us, if we welcome Christ into our home, just as Martha, Mary, and Lazarus did, we will know Him very well, and we’ll have an intimate relationship with Him. With this intimate relationship, we can talk to Him like a person that talks to his friend. We can say to Him all our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our heartaches, sadness, trials, and difficulties. Then just as a friend encourages his beloved, the Lord will grant us grace to do His will, no matter how difficult it is, so that we can continue our journey with Him.

So, just as Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus welcomed the Lord into their home, let us welcome Christ into our home, and as the song about St. Martha goes, “So we pray, now and always, that we might serve the Lord as selflessly. By feeding those in need, their woes making our own, in our hearts may Jesus find a home…”

Mary and Martha of Bethany

Let us pray...

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the example of your Saints may spur us on to a better life, so that we, who celebrate the memory of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, may also imitate without ceasing their deeds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, pray for us!

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