As a former English teacher, I have come to regard skill in writing about characters as an important part of narrative writing. Characterization not only paints a picture in the reader's mind's eye; it also moves the story along, advances the plot and makes the narrative more tangible. When books are turned into movies, the author's ability to flesh out a character is forever changed. Our imaginations are set aside. We can no longer picture the character in any way other than the face of the actor. David Suchet IS Hercule Poirot. Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett are forever our picture of Sherlock Holmes. Charlton Heston is forever linked to the character of Moses.
How do we picture Martha? We remember her today. Interestingly enough, the choice of Gospel texts is left up to the presider. He can either proclaim the Gospel story from St. Luke which pits Martha against her sister Mary as she complains about all the kitchen work she is doing, or he can choose the story from St. John's Gospel which depicts her being the motivation for Jesus' statement, "I AM the Resurrection, and the Life." This statement and Jesus' question after the statement evoke her statement of faith: I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (John 11:27)
As I considered her this morning in my prayer, I had to admit that these two pictures of this important woman in the life of Jesus seem to be at odds with one another. However, after more careful consideration, I also realized that these two pictures from two different evangelists and for two different communities offer us a valuable lesson. Martha is not a one-dimensional character. She can never be pigeon-holed, stereotyped, or set in concrete. Because of these two different pictures of Martha, she will always be, like us, a person whose encounters with Jesus continue to form her faith. May the same be said of all of us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator