There are only a few people whom I look at in biblical history and identify with on an average-human-level. It can be hard to find personal connections to many saints and holy people for me. Some were ordinary and humble, but others were so extraordinary and left big shoes to fill. It can be challenging to wrap your head around their sanctity—I know it is for me. When I hear about St. Martha though, I think, “Yes, she’s my girl.” Martha had close friends and pesky siblings, and when important company came over, she was mad no one was helping as she cleaned and cooked herself into a tizzy. She was so human, so relatable.
St. Martha, her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus were close friends of the Lord. We hear about them from Luke’s Gospel:
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
This is such a great passage. It shows the humanity of these average people. It contrasts Martha, the burdened preparer and host for the occasion, with Mary, the one who sat with and listened to their wise friend, Jesus. It is a chance for those of us who get frazzled to stop for a moment and listen to the Word of God. It is a chance for us to not only let Jesus into our homes, but also into our hearts as well. Martha is so relatable.
In a later moment in John’s Gospel, we hear about Martha taking a completely different approach to the Lord’s arrival. This time, he is met with her sadness but also her faith. This is a big moment for Martha. She seems to have learned to trust and believe, and thus Christ’s arrival brings hope for her even after the death of her brother. She tells Jesus that if he had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but has hope and faith that everything will still be okay. Jesus responds,
“Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
From this we hear St. Martha echo her own “fiat” with the words, “Yes, Lord.” This is when we see her inner beauty emerge. Her old self, prone to complaining and anxiety from hosting, has been replaced by faith.
I find a lot of comfort knowing that St. Martha was imperfect and struggled—even when Jesus was in her home. Her feast day is July 29th, the day before my birthday, and I feel more connected to this saint than ever before. It wasn’t the first time that Jesus entered her home or that she listened to his words. It also probably was not the second or third time she had interacted with him, being close friends. But when the moment came for her to have hope in the Lord, she did. Patience and sitting with Christ, like her sister Mary did, might be another way to sainthood, but for Martha, her heart was not as ready to accept Him then. Her human imperfections kept her from that. Her path to sainthood was a journey comprised of moments of faith and trust, as we saw in her conversation with Jesus after Lazarus’ death. She shows us that, though we can’t always be perfect, our call to sanctity begins with the words, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe...”
“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”-Ez. 37:12-13
“Come out!” The words reverberate and resound in the stench-filled tomb. We too need to hear the words proclaimed to the dead man as we approach the end of our Lenten journeys.
Lent has been our own time of preparing for resurrection—abstaining from anything that deadens us to the voice of Christ inviting us to the fullness of life. For the past few weeks, we have participated in spiritual practices that renew and refresh our spirits. We’ve journeyed with Jesus in our own deserts. And the culmination of this journey is about to occur in only a couple more weeks. Lazarus’ resurrection precedes the Resurrection that changes everything. It is a glimpse of what awaits us after death.
The once rotting man stumbles out of the dark and into the light of Christ—his dear friend. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, do not even say his name when telling Jesus of his illness, but identify him simply as “the one you love.”
The one you love…What a beautiful way to be identified. I think about this for a moment before realizing this is what we are all called to and all invited to: to be the ones Christ loves. This short phrase is our deepest identity as baptized sons and daughters. We are the ones He loves. And as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, this reality will be fully demonstrated: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus will tell us on Good Friday, embracing us with arms wide open on the Cross, “you are the one I love.”
As a result of this great gift, Christ can call us to resurrection—not only after death, but in the here and now. So many realities in our world today threaten to numb us from this true reality. Perhaps we find ourselves in Mary’s shoes. When she and her sister hear of Jesus’ coming, Martha runs to meet Him, but Mary stays where she is. Was hope dead within her? Was she too consumed with her grief to dare to have faith? Did death have the last word?
Perhaps many of us feel the same way: disillusioned. Tired. Grieving. Doubtful.
But Mary’s sister, Martha, shows us another way. Her path leads to the resurrection of her heart in the here and now. In today’s Gospel, the sisters seem to have traded places. Today, it is Martha who chooses the better part. She runs to meet Christ at the moment she hears of His coming. In spite of any doubt, fear, disillusion, or grief—she acts in hope. And this leap of faith is what enables her to give Jesus her all and say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (emphasis added) (John 11:22)
In these words, I hear her say, “Lord, I am disappointed. I am grieving. My brother has died and you were not here. Had you been here, he would have lived. But I give this desire to you. I trust in you. Let it be done according to God’s word.” This, in a sense, can be Martha’s fiat. Her surrendered disposition, mixed with faith, trust, and hope, is what then enables her to confirm, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha has joined the woman at the well and the Apostle Peter in confirming Christ’s identity as the Messiah. She has “come out” of her own tomb.
This past calendar year has likely felt like a tomb for many of us. Perhaps we feel most like the seemingly abandoned Lazarus languishing in the dark. “Where were you, Jesus?” we may ask with Mary and Martha. “Do you not care that the one you love is suffering?”
Jesus does more than care. It is so comforting to read that “Jesus wept” at the knowledge of Lazarus’ death and became greatly perturbed. I can imagine the same, if not a greater, reaction at the death of his earthly father, Joseph. Christ weeps at our suffering. The Creator shudders to see His creation perish. This is not what we were made for. And in His humanity, Christ weeps with us and for us.
But not only will the Son of God weep for His loved ones; He will die for them in just a few days. It is not enough for Him to acknowledge our suffering—He takes it on. He transforms it. He transfigures it. He resurrects it.
As we approach the end of the Lenten season, let us not stay put with Mary but run out with hope like Martha. I pray this Easter Sunday to say firmly with her, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
We are the ones whom He loves. Let us spend some time relishing, resting, and growing in this identity in the remainder of the Lenten season and beyond. In these final weeks of Lent, let us continue to “come out” of our tombs with our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving so that we may not stumble as Lazarus did but run out towards Him who calls our name.
Let us come out into the light.
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The din of breakfast time in a house full of little ones required that I practically yell to my husband to be heard over requests for more milk: “I just feel so sad for our country. I feel sad that so many people are suffering. I’m sad about how devastated God must feel.”
Before he could respond, my sweet, sensitive 5-year-old hugged my legs. “It’s okay to feel sad, Mom. But, why are you sad for our country?”
And so our dialogue began. I gently told him about the injustices being faced by our Black brothers and sisters. I reminded him that God made each of us in His image, and that we are each deeply loved by Jesus. I reminded him that racism is a sin, and that Jesus conquered our sins by His death on the Cross. We love Jesus and honor His sacrifice by turning away from sin. And then I told him that we have work to do: as Catholics, we get to be like Jesus by fighting against racism. As believers, we are called to make the world more loving and just.
So together, we enter this mission of Christ. Our baptism calls us and sends us out, equipping us to live as members of the Body of Christ. The Catechism calls us “members of each other, (CCC no. 1267)” and as such, we have a responsibility to live that way.
Using the life and love of Jesus as the guiding principal of our faith, we are invited to acknowledge the suffering of those around us. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now this is the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is unity as the Body of Christ: a people not positioned as ‘left’ or ‘right,’ for only the unborn or for only Black lives, but positioned at the foot of the Cross. Our Church, informed by the Gospels, calls us together to this work to uphold the dignity of the person, letting Jesus show us the way.
Jesus was moved with compassion.
At the death of Lazarus, he wept. At the woman’s desperation for healing, he allowed himself to be touched by her. He entered into the woman at the well’s loneliness and shame and met her with mercy. Jesus showed up heart first, revealing how we might accompany each other.
As a white woman, I cannot know the suffering of the Black community. I can, however, emulate Jesus by allowing myself to hear and see hurt and be moved deeply by it. Instead of rationalizing, self-aggrandizing, or refusing to acknowledge the pain of another’s story, I open my eyes to see the brokenhearted—even when it challenges me, even when it hurts. Like Jesus, I weep for the loss of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others. I allow myself to feel and enter into the pain. I lean in until it makes me want to do something.
Jesus stood with the vulnerable.
God made flesh dwelled among us and was moved with compassion for his people. Seeing the suffering of Martha and Mary, he raised Lazarus from the dead. At the ailing and fear of the bleeding woman, he extended healing and peace. He saw the shame of the woman at the well and revealed himself as God to her, declaring her worthy of His life-giving water. In these examples and countless others, Jesus reveals himself as unapologetically for and with the least of these. As Catholics, we are called to this mission.
In response to the just anger of our Black brothers and sisters, we stand in solidarity with all who experience the sin and effects of racism . Moved by this pain, we cry out to our Father for healing and peace. Using our voices, votes, and dollars, we stand for and with the Black communities and all affected by the sin of racism, declaring the value of each life and the dignity of each person.
I am tempted to avoid this work. Showing up heart first the way Jesus did requires a vulnerability and humility I often lack. I become disproportionately concerned about being comfortable and being right. I am tempted to keep my head down, refusing to be moved and challenged by new voices and stories. Yet, I am called to look up. When I pridefully insulate myself from the pain of a hurting person or community by my refusal to enter in, openhearted, I deny the dignity of their personhood by not validating their experience. By guarding my hardened heart, I fail my baptismal calling. Jesus concerned himself more with loving the low in spirit than the repercussions of caring. He entered in, listened, and loved each person—especially the marginalized.
So today I seek to live like Jesus. I choose to sit in sorrow for the pain of my Black brothers and sisters. I lift up my voice in prayer, confident that God sees and cares deeply about justice, unity, and life. I choose to look to the mission of Jesus to remember my own. Join me.
In the past few months, most of us have had to confront loss. Some of those losses have been very visible and salient, costing us our jobs, loved ones, and financial security. Others have been less tangible, and yet still impact large parts of our lives: important events have been placed on hold or canceled, relationships have been strained due to distance, and the feeling of having things to look forward to has dissipated. In the aftermath of stay-at-home orders and the pandemic, those of us with these less visible losses might find ourselves minimizing the pain or disappointment we feel. We might compare our smaller losses with those who have undoubtedly encountered more suffering than we have. We may feel that compared to others who have lost jobs, loved ones, homes, or security, we have no right to feel sadness, anger, or disappointment. We might even be preventing ourselves from experiencing grief.
Grief is something natural to our human journey. Like other emotions and emotional processes that we experience as human beings, grief provides us with information to our minds and bodies so that we can survive. In the face of loss, grief serves the purpose of communicating to us that we have encountered a lack of something that was formerly present and available to us. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, job, role on a team or in a workforce, friendship, feeling of security, or a sense of hope, grief helps communicate to us what is most important in our lives. In other words, grief helps inform us regarding what we set our hearts on and what brings us joy and safety. Grief not only touches the realm of the emotions and the psyche; it also is essential to our faith tradition. In Scripture, the words of grief are especially echoed in the psalms:
“My tears have been my bread day and night,
as they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”
Those times I recall
as I pour out my soul,
When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One,
to the house of God,
Amid loud cries of thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.
Why are you downcast, my soul;
why do you groan within me?
Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,
my savior and my God.” (Psalm 42: 4-6)
We even see Jesus grieve several places in the Gospels, such as at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), and even at the suffering he was to experience to carry out our salvation (Luke 22:44). In Catholic funerals, we name and acknowledge the reality of grief in our prayers during our liturgical rites—an important part of believing in and living with Paschal hope.
Grief is not just an emotional process for death or large losses. While it is important to keep a clear perspective about the magnitude of the losses we experience in comparison to the suffering of others, grieving the less tangible and visible losses we experience is an important step to healing and cultivating our mental and emotional health. Additionally, ensuring that we allow ourselves to experience grief, even in response to comparatively smaller losses, can help us grow in holiness. Experiencing grief can help us to find new meaning in our faith, deepen our relationship with God and others, and continue to grow in knowledge of ourselves before God.
So, how are we to allow ourselves to grieve the smaller losses we have experienced in recent months? What are some ways to grieve the rescheduled or canceled graduations, weddings, and festivals, or the lack of opportunity to do the things we enjoy or to spend time with people whom we love?
Emotional Processing vs. Emotional Bypassing
Instead of dismissing ourselves or invalidating the emotions we are experiencing (also known as emotional bypassing), we can allow ourselves to grieve more fully by feeling our emotions and asking questions about what we feel, otherwise known as emotional processing. For example, instead of dismissing how we feel by thinking, “It could be worse!”, it is more helpful to our healing to ask questions such as “What is my sadness and anger telling me about what I love or what’s important to me?” In acknowledging our pain and asking ourselves questions about how we feel, we can grow in self-knowledge and self-understanding about the way in which God has created us. We can also engage in processing with a trusted friend, mentor, or mental health professional.
Allowing Physical Release
Grief, like other emotions and emotional processes, makes itself known in our bodies. Physical pain, muscle aches, clenched jaws, and a racing heartbeat can all be caused by grief, stress, and anxiety. It is important to process these emotions physically so that they do not remain stuck in our bodies. Breathwork, exercise, crying, and movement allows us to feel grief and allow it to process through our body. Journaling, since it requires movement of the hands, is also a helpful tool for engaging grief through our bodies.
Authenticity in Prayer
We are the beloved children of God; God looks upon us with love, care, and concern with whatever we bring to prayer. Talking to God honestly about our disappointment, sadness, or anger brings us closer in relationship with God. In prayer, God is not judging us for what we do or do not say. For this reason, we can be totally authentic with God in prayer. We might feel like we should have a different emotional response to our losses from what we are experiencing, but God’s love is unconditional and infinite: we don’t have to worry about appearing perfect before God.
Grieving the large and small losses of the last few months is not only important, it is human. How can we enter more deeply into our grief to find healing? What in our lives do we need to grieve?
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.”
Today’s Gospel challenged my understanding of what it means to be compassionate. When Jesus learned that a loved one was ill, He responded in a peculiar manner. He didn’t rush to the sick one’s side or hurry to comfort His beloved’s family. Rather, He waited two days.
Why did He wait two days? I sure wouldn’t have done that. If He knew all along that He would raise Lazarus, why would He prolong the wounded agony of Mary and Martha? How could Jesus desert those He loved in their moment of need? It seems almost like a test, a cruel and unnecessary test.
Yet I suspect Jesus had a different intention. By waiting two extra days He was not punishing or testing Mary and Martha but inviting them to examine their own brokenness. The idea of resting in brokenness, rather than avoiding it, has been a particularly challenging concept for me. I first encountered it in Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, in which Stevenson says “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
It seems that Jesus chose the former. When He finally arrived in Bethany and witnessed the woundedness of those He loved, He “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” Then, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that Jesus wept helps me reclaim my own brokenness and affirms that truly embodying compassion requires entering into the chaos of woundedness, both my own and that of the “other” person.
Prayer: God of grace, help me rest in my woundedness. When I feel most alone and deserted, remind me of Jesus’ constant refrain “Do not be afraid.” Help me remember that Jesus Himself, the almighty Son of God, wept for the pain of His community. Let me never forget that one of Jesus’ greatest miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead was precipitated by His solidarity in suffering with those He loved dearly. Amen.
Focus on: Social Justice
How have you been wounded by the, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism?” How can you – and your surrounding communities – enter into this brokenness and encounter healing compassion?
Service Inspiration: My mother, Sue, understands part of my volunteer experience, but struggles with other components. However, I recently babysat for a colleague’s children, a two-and-a-half year old and a six-month old. When I left, I was exhausted. I realized later that I watched two boys the same age difference as my brother and I, but only for a few hours. My mom did it for years, and then became my teacher and homeschooled us. She served as an enormous role model, never asking for thanks or recognition, silently taking on her children’s struggles. She is an inspiration and reminder of Jesus here on Earth.
*This Lenten reflection was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was posted with permission.
Greg Hamilton attended Saint Michael’s College in the grace-filled Green Mountain State of Vermont and is currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Washington D.C. at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Most days, Greg finds a way to involve his favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in his routine.
We’ve heard the story of Martha and Mary welcoming Jesus into their home. Martha is busy tending to hospitality needs while Mary listens to Jesus. Martha complains to Jesus requesting Mary’s help. Instead, Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:38-42)
As a young girl, I found the story of Martha and Mary difficult to understand. Growing up in a family valuing hard work, I often associated myself with Martha’s work ethic. I couldn’t figure out why Jesus would value inaction rather than work. Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the lazy will be put to forced labor.” But then I realized I had the point of the story wrong.
Jesus’ response has nothing to do with working hard. It has everything to do with listening to his message. We can then see in ourselves what Jesus points out in Martha – we can be easily distracted and worried by tasks we need to accomplish in this world. Through Martha’s story, Jesus reminds us that there is one thing that is important: following Jesus’ message and his individual calling for each of us.
In John 11:17-27, Martha meets Jesus as soon as she learns he is coming after hearing Lazarus has died. Immediately we see a change in this narrative of Martha. She purposefully goes to Jesus and when he asks her about his belief in him she responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Next, Martha has the opportunity to serve Jesus six days after the Passover (John 12:1-8). She does so humbly and quietly. We come to understand Martha’s role is a different calling than Mary’s, much like in our own lives when those around us may not be called to the same occupations, tasks, talents, and other circumstances. Martha has chosen to serve with love instead of with bitterness and arrogance.
Martha’s story gives us hope. Even though we can fall into the trap of trying to complete tasks on our own without God, there is opportunity for us to try again. When Jesus speaks to Martha, he is not unkind. His response is a loving one. As sinners we can only strive to learn and grow from our mistakes to make the next opportunity filled with Christ.
Known as the patron saint of cooks, homemakers, and servants, St. Martha reminds us to thank those in our lives who serve us. This can be our parents or those who cook for us, those who work in public service, or even the waiter or waitress at our next restaurant meal. As a way to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day with our families this July 29th, we can pray to serve Jesus better:
Saint Martha, pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day. Amen.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
As a fun activity to celebrate St. Martha’s feast day, I found this no-bake pumpkin pie recipe from Quebec named after St. Martha in my family cookbook, Cooking with the Saints: An Illustrated Treasury of Authentic Recipes Old and Modern
Tarte a la Citrouille Sainte-Marthe
¾ c. (200g) sugar
1 ½ c. (375g) pumpkin puree
½ c. (125ml) milk
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. gelatin (1 ½ envelopes)
1 pre-baked piecrust
If you have used sweetened pumpkin puree, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by half.
Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until fluffy, add half the sugar and continue beating until smooth. Set aside.
In another bowl beat the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until the mixture thickens and becomes pale. Add the pumpkin puree, milk, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Continue beating until mixture is smooth.
Transfer mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook it for 7-8 minutes until it thickens.
Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cold water and let it soak for 5 minutes. Add gelatin to the contents of the double boiler and stir until it is dissolved.
Let the pumpkin mixture cool to room temperature, then carefully fold in the beaten egg whites with a spatula.
Pour into the pre-baked piecrust and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm and set.
Poor Thomas! One remark by my namesake and he’s forever branded as “Doubting Thomas.” The Church doesn’t honor him each July 3rd for this, however, but for what is absolutely one of the most explicit Professions of Faith uttered in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20: 24-29, c.f. Luke 7:1-10) In those five words, Thomas boldly expresses his revived belief in his resurrected Master and testifies to His divinity, ready to once again follow Christ and evangelize the world about Him. While this redeeming witness is indeed memorable, it is important to not lose sight of another of Thomas’ statements as recorded in John’s gospel, which shows us more about his personality and in turn, our own faith in Christ, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
This other mention of Thomas occurs when Jesus decides to travel to the village of Bethany in Judea to raise Lazarus, thus coming dangerously close to Jerusalem (see John 10:22-39, c.f. Mark 10:32-34). Remembering how the Jews there had earlier tried to stone Jesus, the disciples must have felt apprehensive about undertaking such a risky journey (see John 11:8). Thomas, however, seeing Jesus’ determination, exhorts them saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Brave words for a doubter! Pope Benedict XVI even characterized Thomas’ sincere resolve to follow his Master as something which is “truly exemplary and offers us a valuable lesson: it reveals his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with him the supreme trial of death” (September 27, 2006 General Audience).
This is the very definition of the Christian life! A life with Jesus is to be with Him through times of joy, peace, hope, success, and prosperity, as well as uncertainty, loss, sorrow, ridicule, and persecution. This is “no sugarplum” as Benedict describes it in Jesus of Nazareth (pg. 67), but without Christ what can one hope for to carry him or her through the trials of life? What would be the point in continuing on?
In his final five words recorded in the Bible, Thomas redeems himself after doubting Christ by exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”. The wounds he touched confirm, undoubtedly, the Identity of Christ, the truth of His Message, and the authenticity of God’s infinite Love, not just for Thomas, but all believers! St. Augustine comments on this: Thomas “saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other” (In ev. Jo. 121, 5).
It is important to remember that Saint Thomas, like all the apostles, was personally chosen by Christ in spite of their weaknesses and lack of understanding. But Christ did not pick worthless men! Rather, their failings are a reminder that holiness is a gift from God and not a human creation, given to us, who have our own weaknesses, so God can transform them into the loving image of Christ and mature our faith. Jesus also permitted Thomas to doubt after the resurrection but did not abandon him in those doubts, instead allowing him to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection and thus verify the whole Christian message (see 1 Corinthians 15:14). Finally, we are called to not give in to our doubts regarding God, our dignity and worth, or even hard Church teachings no matter how unpopular they may seem! By looking to Saint Thomas as a model (and by praying to him for guidance), may we find comfort in our insecurities, hope in the future, and the encouragement to persevere through the difficulties of life on the way to our final rendezvous with our Lord and our God.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke’s Gospel is a passage referenced often for its moral lessons: how to treat the poor, how to avoid the dominance wealth can have on an individual. Readers take one look at the characters and find the lessons that can be applied in their own lives. However, a recent reading of John Chrysostom’s sermons On Wealth and Poverty has encouraged me to take a longer look at this parable. Chrysostom argues that we can learn from the parable not only about the characters in it, but also about the God who saves them.
We find Lazarus in a state of great poverty. Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel that Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come lick his sores (Lk 16-21).” The details in this account show us that Lazarus was not just any poor person, he was the poorest. He could not afford anything for himself. He was so weak that he could not even fight small animals away. What does this say about the rich man? What kind of person must he be to pass by Lazarus without being moved to pity him? He must have passed him multiple times since Lazarus was right outside the rich man’s home. This paints a picture of a man who is not only consumed by his wealth, but is also blinded by it.
Given these two characters and the details told of them, what can be determined about God? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Christ gives the famous Beatitudes, speaking about those who are “Blessed,” which can also mean “happy.” He says that in God’s eyes, those who are poor, hungry and weeping are the ones who are blessed and will be eternally happy.(Lk 6: 20-22) Lazarus embodies these characteristics to the extreme. And through Lazarus we see a reversal in heaven of what is on the earth. That is to say, that through Christ, those who are poor are wealthy in God.
In contrast, the rich man in the story, consumed by his desire for earthly wealth and status, finds himself in the netherworld after death.(Lk 16:23)He is the epitome of those Christ warned against in the second half of the Beatitudes. His “woe to you” lines speak out to all of the characteristics that the rich man had: money, fame and laughter. But this is not limited to a criticism of success or money, but rather reflects on how the rich man used his wealth. He did not share even the least of his possessions with Lazarus. Because of the character of God, He ends up sharing nothing of Heaven with the rich man. It echoes Jesus’ words, “What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.”(Mt 25:40)
We see Lazarus in Heaven sitting with Abraham. The hopefulness to spend eternal life with Abraham, the father of the Israelites, is what makes the poor rich. This hope given to us directly from God is reflected within Lazarus himself. God took the poorest of the poor, and elevated him to standing side-by-side with Abraham. This alludes to the mercy that God has on us, culminating with the death of Christ Himself. In this death, we see a complete reversal: the son of God accepts the poverty, humiliation, and human death that we all must experience at some point. But Christ also shows us what awaits us in Heaven: endless mercy and love.
Lazarus’s poverty, hunger, and rejection from society become his greatest strength. For what kind of person does it take to endure such ridicule? Our God is a God who notices such characteristics that go beyond that scope of the world. In this parable, we see more than just a poor cripple and a pitiless man. We see a God who is completely merciful, reversing the earthly situation Lazarus found himself in. The parable represents an eschatological reversal stated clearly in the Beatitudes: The poor are blessed and the rich are warned. Most importantly, we have a God whose mercy extends to both sides if they choose to accept it.
Thomas Coast works in the Diocese of Manchester NH and working on is MA in Theology through the Echo Faith Formation Program out of the University of Notre Dame.