Here Augustine reflects on hishat famous incident, recorded in Luke 10, when the Lord comes to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha busies herself with the details of hospitality, anxious and troubled about many things. Martha represents the battle we all face against the distractions inherent in our everyday responsibilities. For the feast of St. Martha on July 29.
ur Lord’s words teach us that though we labor among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal. For we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.
Mary & Mary of Bethany
Martha and Mary were sisters, related not only by blood but also by religious aspirations. They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them. Martha welcomed him as travelers are welcomed.
But in her case, the maidservant received her Lord, the invalid her Savior, the creature her Creator, to serve him bodily food while she was to be fed by the Spirit. For the Lord willed to put on the form of a slave, and under this form to be fed by his own servants, out of condescension and not out of need. For this was indeed condescension, to present himself to be fed; since he was in the flesh he would indeed be hungry and thirsty.
Receiving Christ into your Home
Thus was the Lord received as a guest who came unto his own and his own received him not; but as many as received him, he gave them the power to become sons of God [John 1:11], adopting those who were servants and making them his brothers, ransoming the captives and making them his co-heirs. No one of you should say: “Blessed are they who have deserved to receive Christ into their homes!” Do not grieve or complain that you were born in a time when you can no longer see God in the flesh. He did not in fact take this privilege from you. As he says: Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you did to me [Matthew 25:40].
Martha is Blessed
But you, Martha, If I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarreling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?
No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.
For a short podcast on what we can learn from the two sisters from Bethany about hospitality, listen to Dr. Italy to talk about MARTHA, MARY AND CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
For a contemporary treatment of Jesus’ visit to Martha & Mary, read Dr. Italy’s post Martha, Mary and the Catholic Fullness.
A reading from a sermon by St. Augustine (Sermo 103, 1-2, 6: PL 38, 613, 615) for the Feast of Saint Martha sister of Mary and Lazarus on July 29. Here Augustine is commenting on the gospel story of Martha serving the Lord at table while Mary sat at his feet as recorded in Luke 10:38-42
Banner/featured image of Martha, Mary and Jesus by an unknown artist. Public domain.