Earlier this spring, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship issued a decree, approved by Pope Francis, that made a subtle but important change to one of the memorials on our liturgical calendar. The memorial we celebrate on July 29, which until now was the Memorial of St. Martha, is now instead going to be the Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
These three siblings lived together in a home in Bethany, just a few miles outside of Jerusalem. We know from the Gospels that Jesus would stay in their house from time to time. The most extended description of one of these stays is the famous incident recorded in Luke 10:38 42, where Martha was “burdened with much serving” while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. But there are other references to Jesus staying in Bethany as well. The most significant of these is recorded in Matthew 21:17, where Jesus chooses to spend the night there on the eve of his final entry into Jerusalem... the entry into Jerusalem that would culminate with His Passion and Crucifixion. Now while it doesn’t specify in that particular passage that it was in the house of Martha and her siblings, it would be the most logical choice. We know Jesus was extremely close with them; during the account of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), Jesus refers to Lazarus as his friend. Moreover, in that same incident we are told directly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (Jn 11:5) and learn that Jesus weeps when he arrives at Lazarus’ tomb. All of the evidence of the Gospels is that Jesus had a very close and personal relationship with this family, which without doubt developed as a result of the time Jesus spent in their home as a guest. Their hospitality, in welcoming Jesus into their home in Bethany, blossomed into deep friendship and authentic love.
The same can be true of us. Whether our home is a small downtown apartment or a majestic mansion; whether we live alone or are in the midst of family life; whether we are students just beginning to live away from home or the elderly in a retirement community... all of us can transform our living space into a Bethany. We can welcome and invite others
to come over. We can open our homes to family and friends. We can invest ourselves in “serving” our guests and in doing so, showing them honor and care and most of all, love. It doesn’t have to be dramaticinviting a neighbor over for coffee or tea is enough. Not all of us are “social butterflies” comfortable hosting large parties. Not all of our “Bethanies”
are large enough to handle huge crowds! But in some way, however small, we can all reach out.
May the example of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and their home in Bethany, be an inspiration to us all. For when we welcome others in to our homes in a spirit of true hospitality,
we also welcome in Christ Himself.
Fr. John Paul