Last year, Pope Francis expanded the feast day of St. Martha to include her siblings, Mary and Lazarus. Now every year on July 29, we celebrate the sanctity of an entire household who were known as good friends of Jesus. Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, which may be translated as “house of affliction.” Some historians think that Bethany might have been a place of exile for those suffering from long-term illnesses. This might explain the circumstance of Lazarus’ death, but it also reveals why Jesus loved to be with them so much. Jesus said that those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. As the Divine Physician, Jesus spent ample time with those who were suffering. Further, if Jesus wanted to escape the scrutiny of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Bethany was most likely a place where He would not have bumped into them.
Jesus brings the love, mercy and restoration of the Father to each of our own “houses of affliction.” Martha, Mary and Lazarus each in their own way reveal to us what this looks like. First, Martha welcomed the encounter with Jesus. She wanted nothing more than to prepare a place for Jesus to come, stay and feel at home. In order to welcome Jesus into the Bethany within us, we must prepare a place for Him. We need to turn away from false idols, self-reliance and sin in order to make room for the Divine Physician. Mary then reveals that the most important part of being a friend of Jesus is to remain with Him, to sit at His feet and to be spiritually nourished. This is the “better part” that she will not be denied. Once we have opened our hearts to Jesus, we need to be willing to “waste time” just being with Him in prayer. Divine “son-bathing,” if you will, just placing ourselves in the presence of the Eucharist or spending time with God’s Word will always bear more fruit than any other self-help recipe we try to create for ourselves. Then there is Lazarus. Lazarus reveals what the power of divine friendship has in our lives. Whether we are dead spiritually or (eventually for all of us) physically, the love that Jesus has for His friends is so powerful that He can call us by name and raise us up. However, one of the most significant parts of Lazarus’ story that is often overlooked is that after he was raised, he gave witness to what Jesus had done for him. So much so, that in John 12:10, we read that the chief priests were seeking to put Lazarus to death — again!
So within the context of Martha, Mary and Lazarus we see the dynamic movement of discipleship. Martha shows us that we need to welcome Jesus into our tribulations. Mary shows us that we need to remain with Him and receive the better part. Lazarus shows us that when God has loved us and His grace has had effect in our lives, we need to proclaim and share it. The house of Bethany challenges each of us as individuals to make sure that the Martha, Mary and Lazarus within me are each active. This also applies then to our families, our parishes and our archdiocese as a whole. How do we welcome Jesus in our homes parishes and archdiocese? How much of our time, talent and treasure do we give to remaining with Him and receiving truth, goodness and beauty? And how effective are we at sharing the good news with other and creating new moments of encounter for them in their own Bethanys?