Browsing through old books you find things you don’t expect. This morning in a book of old prints I found one by the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, illustrating the gospel story of Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.
The gospels tell that story succinctly, but the artist offers some delightful details that he’s thought about. He’s let his imagination roam. Notice the table set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.
But, others are coming in the door. Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One is gesturing towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”
Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”
There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.
More than four are going to be fed.
We need this kind of reading of the gospels.
Martha and Mary were not just related by blood, St. Augustine says, they were related by the same holy desire. “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”
Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.
“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile. no one dead to bury.”
“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”