Friends of Jesus: Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

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Choosing the Better Part

The Church has long held that the three siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are all saints. However, we have only a few details from the Bible about them. They are from Bethany, and they are clearly good friends of Jesus.

In Luke's Gospel, we have the account of when Jesus visited their home and Martha became upset with her sister Mary for not helping her with all the work she was doing. (Lk 10:38-42) Instead, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus like a disciple listening to His teaching. Jesus replied to Martha that Mary had chosen what was most important by listening to Him.

From this we learn that although the active life and the contemplative life are important, the contemplative life is more important. Our active lives must be a product of our interior lives. In light of Jesus being present in their home, it was more important to cultivate the interior life at that moment rather than to have been busy with the active life.

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Preparing the Lord for His Passion

Six days before Jesus' last Passover, He came to their home and Mary anointed Jesus with the costly nard. (Jn 12:1-8, Mt 26:6-13, Mk 14:3-9) Although a protest was made by Judas that the costly ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus pointed out that what Mary had done had prepared Him for His burial. Jesus referred to her action as "a beautiful thing for Me." (Mk 14:6) Mary clearly loved Jesus and demonstrated that the fruit of her contemplating His teaching was to demonstrate her love for Him in an extravagant way. Her way was in line with God's will that Jesus die and be buried which was a message that the disciples had struggled to understand.

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Raised from the Dead

And, of course, there is probably the best known story about the three siblings which was recorded in St. John's Gospel: Lazarus being raised from the dead. Martha demonstrated her faith when she met Jesus and spoke with Him. She believed that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. (Jn 11:21) Martha also noted that she believed that, "whatever you ask from God, God will give you." (Jn 11:22) In confirming that she believed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, Martha proclaimed, "Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world." (Jn 11:27) Other than from Peter, there are few clearer statements made by anyone in the Gospels, stating Who Jesus is. For her part, Mary also said to Jesus that she is sure that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died.

When Jesus asked for the stone to be taken away, Martha did not grasp what He was doing and protested that there will be an odor. (Jn 11:39) Jesus reminded her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" (Jn 11:40)

We do not have the reactions of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at Lazarus being raised from the dead, but we can well imagine what an amazing scene it must have been. Their faith must have been renewed and strengthened profoundly as the rejoiced in the goodness of God.

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After Pentecost

From tradition, we are told that Lazarus would go on to become a missionary to Gaul, ordained the first bishop of Marseilles, and be killed as a martyr in the persecution of Domitian. His sister, Martha, might have accompanied him and been a missionary to Gaul, as well.

From early on in the west, Mary of Bethany has also been identified as Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene, of course, met Jesus at the tomb and told the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. She is the Apostle to the Apostles. One tradition is that, she, too, went with Lazarus and Martha to Gaul and served as a missionary. Then, at some point, she retired from public life to live as a hermitess until her death. The eastern tradition is that she accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary to Ephesus where she lived for the rest of her life.

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