Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
29 July NT
From the Satucket Lectionary
On one occasion, when Jesus and His disciples were their guests (Luke 10:38-42), Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him while her sister Martha busied herself with preparing food and waiting on the guests, and when Martha complained, Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part.
When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, had died, Jesus came to Bethany. Martha, upon being told that He was approaching, went out to meet Him, while Mary sat still in the house until He sent for her. It was to Martha that Jesus said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11:1-44)
Again, about a week before the crucifixion, as Jesus reclined at table, Mary poured a flask of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Mary was criticized for wasting what might have been sold to raise money for the poor, and again Jesus spoke on her behalf. (John 12:1-8)
On the basis of these incidents, many Christian writers have seen Mary as representing Contemplation (prayer and devotion), and Martha as representing Action (good works, helping others); or love of God and love of neighbor respectively.
They see the same symbolism also in Leah and Rachel, the daughters of Laban (Genesis 29 and 35). Leah was dim of sight, but had many children. Rachel had few children, but one of them saved the whole family from destruction. Leah represents Action, which is near-sighted and cannot penetrate very far into the mysteries of God, but produces many worth-while results. Contemplation has fewer results, but one of those results is Faith, without which it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) Yet, there is a sense in which Action comes first — “If a man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how shall he love God, whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20) So it is that Leah must be wed before Rachel.
On some calendars, Lazarus is commemorated together with his sisters, on others his resurrection is remembered separately on 17 December.