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  • Writer's picturePatty Breen

Pray Like Martha

The small town of Bethany lies on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives - it is the last place Jesus would have been before the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

In this town, lives some of the dearest friends of Jesus, outside his twelve apostles - Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. It was here Jesus came to rest and relax, put his feet up, and perhaps enjoy an extra glass of wine over dinner with laughter and recalling happy memories. It was his safe haven. Bethany was a place of retreat and respite - and perhaps, one of the sisters of this village can be a model for us in each of our lives.

In the May session of my spiritual direction appointment I let the tears flow, sharing something heavy on my heart with my director - the loneliness and confusion of a particular situation. With loving kindness in her eyes, she said to me: “Patty, I want you to be so bold and clear in your prayer to Jesus of what you want. Be so specific. Keep banging on that door, even holler and yell at him if you have to.” I have been doing that.

Fast forward about a month. I cracked open my Bible one particular morning. I’ll be honest, the daily Mass readings felt “boring” to me so I picked up where I left off in Luke - which was the Gospel for this feast.

I was struck by Martha’s direct, even bold question to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care … ?” In a way, it was as if I was reading those words for the first time. I sat in the silence of that question, holding my mug of coffee. In the quiet, my mind wandered to another story involving the direct tenacity of Martha.

My mind went to the account of John, my favorite miracle of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I felt curious to see if Martha was the same sister again, throwing a hard question at Jesus wracked in her deep emotions and feelings. (You can see where this is going.)

When Jesus not only waits but arrives days after his friend has died, Martha confronts Jesus as he arrives: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Martha is angry, grief stricken, distraught, confused - perhaps she is ready to give Jesus a piece of her mind. Tear streamed down her face, angry and sad all wrapped together.

Don’t you care?

Where were you?

If you had been here this never would have happened!

Don’t we all feel like this in life sometimes?

The invitation to be more direct with Jesus than I ever have in my life found me in those two questions that Martha asks Jesus.

Don’t you care?

If you had been here, this never would have happened!

I have asked similar questions to Jesus many times in my life and I am certain there will be more to come. That’s okay.

And Jesus, he doesn’t rebuke Martha or tell her to snap out of it and pull it together. He receives her honest feelings. He is not put off by them - just like Jesus is never ever put off by the real and sometimes hard questions of faith and life we bring to him.

I learned something new about myself and about prayer that morning I put all of this together.

I want to be a woman who prays like Martha. Direct, tenacious, even feisty.

Maybe in the end - this is the real lesson for all of us in Martha - not that she was busy with many things on her mind, but that she really, truly knew how to pray from the depths of her being.

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