Therese of Lisieux vs. Martha of Bethany

In the penultimate match-up of the First Round, two women square off with the winner taking on Harriet Tubman. Thérèse of Lisieux, the original flower child, takes on Martha of Bethany, Biblical disciple. Yesterday Gregory the Great defeated Martin of Tours in the Battle of the Bishops and will face Florence Li-Tim Oi in the next Round. We understand that, in an act of deferential concession, Martin then sliced his miter in half.

If you missed yesterday's release of the People's Edition of Monday Madness make sure you watch it today. Tim and Scott aren't in it -- we defer to the "little people" of Lent Madness. AKA some people who were with us in San Diego last week that were duped into finishing the statement "I love Lent Madness because..."

photoThérèse of Lisieux

While experiencing nervous tremors as a young girl, Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) believed that she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and was healed. She described this to Carmelite nuns, whose questions filled her with self-doubt and caused her to believe, wrongly, that she had lied about it. Several years later, on Christmas Eve 1886, she had what she said was a “complete conversion” as love entered her heart and liberated her to serve others.

The next year she told her father about her desire to mark the first anniversary of that conversion by joining the Carmelite nuns before Christmas. He picked up a little white flower with its roots and gave it to her. He said that God had created it and cared for it. Thérèse, who would eventually become known as “The Little Flower,” believed that to be a metaphor for her own life and that she would be planted in different soil. Yet she was still considered too young to be planted in the soil of the Carmelite nuns.

Later that same year, on a pilgrimage to Rome, she knelt before Pope Leo XIII and asked him to allow her to enter that religious community. He blessed her but left the decision in the hands of its superiors. She stubbornly remained there and had to be removed from the room by the Swiss Guard. Finally, however, she was allowed to become a Carmelite postulant at the age of 15 and moved into a cloistered community in Lisieux, which is located in northwestern France. Thérèse made her religious profession there at the age of 17.

She finally had the life she wanted – a life dedicated to prayer. So it’s interesting to note that she frequently fell asleep while praying and was embarrassed that she couldn’t stay awake in chapel with her religious community. But she realized that parents love their children while they sleep just as much as they do when they’re awake. In the same way, she knew that God loved her.

Chapel presented other challenges too. One of the nuns made clicking noises in that setting that drove Thérèse nuts. She might have been playing with her rosary. She might have had bad dentures. Whatever the true cause, it was simply maddening to Thérèse. But Thérèse decided to make it into a kind of music and offer it as a prayer as she sat there in the presence of God.

Those are both examples of her “little way” of being a Christian. After Thérèse’s death from tuberculosis at the age of 24, her writings were collected and published as The Story of a Soul. That’s how the world came to know and love her.

Collect for Thérèse of Lisieux
O God, by whose grace Thérèse of Lisieux became, with the fire of your love, a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we may be inflamed with the same spirit of love, and ever walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-- Neil Alan Willard

VERMEER_van_Delft_Jan_Christ_in_the_house_of_Martha_and_Mary_1654Martha of Bethany

Though Martha of Bethany is mentioned in only two places in Scripture (Luke 10:38-42, John 11-12), she has had a lasting impact, for good and ill, on our conception of the spiritual life. It is sometimes hard to remember that Martha is a person and not a type. But, as one commentator puts it, “She looks at us out of the pages, a curiously vivid personality; downright, honest, practical, unselfish” (Interpreter’s Bible 1952, Volume 8, p. 636).

Martha is a devoted sister, never mentioned except alongside one or both of her siblings, Mary and Lazarus. Whether Martha is the oldest in the family is uncertain.  However, Luke makes it plain that Martha invites Jesus to her house for that fateful meal when Jesus takes her multitasking to task. “Tell my sister to come and help me,” Martha says. In reply, Jesus speaks to Martha’s inner state rather than the presenting issue: “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Martha, who had sought to serve Jesus and wishes for Mary to do the same, is instead invited to be served.

John reports that when Jesus arrives at Bethany after the death of Lazarus, it is Martha who first goes out to greet him. They engage in a conversation in which Martha’s statement of Christ’s ministry rivals the Confession of Peter.

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" (John 11:23-27).

Also like Peter, Martha has a habit of saying exactly what she’s thinking and keeping it real. As with Peter, Jesus treats this forthrightness with forthrightness. When Jesus tells those gathered to remove the stone from Lazarus’ tomb, it is Martha who points out Lazarus has been dead four days and smells pretty ripe. This earns her another ding from Jesus who says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Martha seems to take these rebukes in stride, continuing in her faithful discipleship and love of her Lord. In the final mention of Martha in Scripture, John 12:2, Jesus again joins the beloved siblings for dinner. Lazarus is at table; Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume. And Martha served.

Collect for Martha of Bethany
Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany: Open our hearts to love you, our ears to hear you, and our hands to welcome and serve you in others, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Laura Toepfer


Therese of Lisieux vs. Martha of Bethany

  • Martha of Bethany (74%, 2,736 Votes)
  • Therese of Lisieux (26%, 942 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,678

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162 comments on “Therese of Lisieux vs. Martha of Bethany”

  1. I grew up with a dislike of Theresa, owing to the fact that she was held up as a perfect child and we (students at St Anne's Parochial School) should all emulate her. Now, as ad adult, I can appreciate her beautiful, singular witness to God's love and am voting for "The Little Flower" with all my heart.

    1. The forthrightness of Martha appeals to me. I have always felt a kinship with her.

  2. I feel like Martha on several levels and hear Jesus' message with a grateful heart.

    1. My post on Martha is way down on the list, but I need to say here that I think Martha has been misinterpreted and overlooked throughout church history. She may have been multi-tasking when we first meet her, but she was obviously a strong, smart woman, who I think sat down to listen to Jesus after he pointed out Mary's desire to learn. Martha makes the greatest statement about who Jesus is, pre-ressurection, of anyone else in all the Gospels! Peter makes a statment that isn't quite as strong, and he is labeled as the "the rock..." and considered the first pope. Martha makes a stronger statement of understanding about Jesus' mission and identity and she is considered just a busy housewife? Where is the sense in that?

      1. When I talk about the Mary and Martha story, I often call Mary the lazy sister. I wonder who cooked the meals, cleaned up the dirty dishes, and made sure Jesus had a comfy, clean-ish place to hang out. The compassionate Jesus I believe in probably said something more like, "Hey Martha, I'll help you clean up later. Why don't you sit a spell and relax?"

  3. Therese had symptoms of epilepsy. I admire her ability particularly during the times when illness was seen as a sign of wickednessk to convert these symptoms into cause for prayer and devotion.

  4. I did not know much about Therese of Lisieux until I studied her further than the brief biography given. Co-Patron of France with Joan of Arc, Co-Patron of Missions with Francis Xavier and only the third woman to be named Doctor of the Church. For me Therese of Lisieux is much more and worthy of my vote this morning.

  5. I am conflicted. I did somethign different. I was reading some info on both ladies last night ahead of time and I have decided to wait til later to vote after reading some comments. Information on these ladise is most appreciated as I never heard of Theresa before LM and know only a little about Martha.

    I am drawn to Theresa's idea of "little ways" of showing the love of Christianity and yet I seem to connect with Martha on a personal plane. Laura thanks for excellent write up in your blog to go along with today's LM!!

  6. My vote goes to the woman who says ' exactly what she is thinking '. Calling 'em like she sees 'em.

  7. No contest, it's Therese all the way. "Do small things with great love" versus do-small-things-then-complain-to-Jesus-because-your-contemplative-sister-is-listening-to his teaching? I love Martha in the Lazarus story but Therese, words have inspired me to be a better wife, mother, and and employee (acts of service are not my primary "love language")

  8. I no longer care for the old language of the Authorized Version of 1610 (more often called King James) but Martha's comment to Jesus has to be the funniest one in the Bible: "Surely, his body stinketh?"

    1. Surely that goes to Luke 1:29! Where Mary wondered "what manner of salutation this should be.". Every time I hear the Christmas story, I giggle...

      1. My favorite is John 9:30 - "Why herein is a marvellous thing!"
        I think that whole scene between the Man Born Blind and the religious authorities
        is hilarious: "Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us ?!?!?!?!"

        1. And mine is the end of Jonah: "and also much cattle." Gotta love it--poor cows!

  9. Therese of Lisieux - easily annoyed teenager who made the best of it. Seriously, she was the proponent of the "little way" which makes us all realize that it is the small things that count. My vote is for the Little Flower.

  10. Going with Martha -- want to see her in the next round. Lots of good Martha legends...

    1. Surely Martha was the inspiration for the parable of the coin in Luke 15 where Jesus pictures God as a crazy woman with a broom. So Martha must be one of the most God-like figures in the gospels, right? And we can all quote that verse (can't quite come up with the reference at the moment) "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."
      ...On the other hand, while Belgian monks make a fantastic ale, I hear the Carmelite nuns produce an absolutely fabulous low-fat topping for ice cream! And all we who fall asleep while praying DO need a patron saint.

  11. Anyone who has gone on a longed-for retreat, only to find some irritant distracting one from prayer... and then figures out a way to pray with and through the annoyance---- bravo! Therese- the patron of those of us who find the reality of a life of prayer hard work.... but perseveres. Go Terry!

  12. Because I relate to her flaws and admire her unhesitating faith and honesty, my choice today is Martha, Martha, Martha!

  13. I am a deacon, so Martha is a bit of a role model, as well as an object lesson, for me.

    I also greatly appreciate that she is the only person in any Gospel to address Jesus with real, hot anger: "If you had been here...!"

  14. I have to confess that I have never understood the merits of Santa Teresita to be considered as a saint. Well, for me saints are the members of the Ekklesia and in this regard she was a saint, so I mean the merits for her to be put on the altars.

  15. Both keeping it real, both working it out in the midst of the everyday, both struggling yet persevering, faithful and inspiring. Most difficult match to date.

  16. women in general are the caretakers. They serve the others. wives, mothers, eldest sisters, daughters often have no time for contemplation, everyone must eat. Martha did that and still knew that Jesus was the Messiah and she was committed to him. We find ourselves in that position often when the cares of day to day take over and it's difficult to put them aside. Yes, Mary sat and listened to Jesus, but Martha fed him and his followers and made them welcome. My vote goes with Martha.

  17. I found folks' devotion to Therese, and her way of following Christ, baffling until I studied her and her work. She took the spiritual practices and devotions of her time and moved them to another level, and in the process became someone admired by people as diverse as Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. In particular, during her time of deep spiritual trial, she felt such empathy & concern for those who had chosen not to believe, that she offered to stay in complete spiritual darkness forever as a sacrifice in love for others' salvation. Her experience of unbelief galvanizes her final act: her willingness to stay in the darkness in empathy and concern for those who have chosen it. A "little way" that is far from little.

    1. Offering to stay in spiritual darkness so that others might come to the light sounds rather like the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva; the one who stays just this side of Enlightenment to show others the way.

  18. The 'Martha vs. Mary' battle took up a lot of time with my friends and me when I was a young Christian. My friends would claim to be Marthas and wished they were Marys, while I (silently) thought myself a Mary and felt they were (silently) wishing I would 'help with serving.' So here as best I can tell from outside reading on Therese, we have indeed a Mary/Martha battle. Very kind words spoken of Martha, here and at Infusion, but I still come out desiring the contemplative life, not the serving one. I'll be interested to see how this comes out!

  19. Tough choice...Martha, down-to-earth, pragamatic, direct, seemingly the elder sister...and biblical figure...Therese, romantic, youngest sister, strong-willed...and "historical"...I like them both...but am reminded of Therese's desire to be a priest in a time and a church where that was impossible. I think I'm leaning towards Therese...though I think she'll be the low-vote-getter today!

  20. I am somewhat A.D.D. and I often try too hard to take in too much. Martha gives me comfort as she shows those subject to the distractions of the immediate the possibilities offered by staying focused on what it truly important. When offered the invitation to learn, Martha takes it. Her understanding of hospitality changes when she decides to listen to Jesus. When Jesus arrives in Bethany upon learning about the grave illness of Lazarus, it it Martha who not only greets him (Mary stays home) but Martha who reveals how her willingness to learn has blossomed into belief in the following from John 11:20-30:

    "When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’"

  21. I am so torn. I have newly come to know St. Therese of Liseaux and love her as one of my Patron Saints. But I also belong to St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany Episcopal Church and Martha is our Patron Saint. I'm going to have think on this a little more before I decide.

  22. This was a tough one for me. I so love Therese's idea of "do small things with great love," but I can't help feel a personal and stronger connection to Martha. So it's Martha all the way!

  23. Being an Altar Guild directress, I identify with Martha. I am sometimes mocked (lovingly?) for being so task oriented. But my two inner reflections are that someone has to do the work, and that all work is prayer. Never do I begin my duties without a prayer first,and never do I forget who it is that I serve. I don't know if there is a patron saint of Altar Guilds, but if not, I nominate Martha.

  24. I am a Martha by name and by inclination. I have always thought perhaps it might be better if I was a little less Martha-ish and more Mary-ish. But after reading this morning's offering, I am hoping that I can continue being Martha-ish: having the tenacity to continue to serve faithfully and lovingly whenever and wherever Jesus invites me.

  25. I have to say Martha as I feel like a Martha a lot and I honor her and her works.

  26. Both of these gals have great spiritual & human qualities; realizing that it is not the vote, but the new (for me) revelations about these people that is the most important thing. Great Job of bring us these spiritual facets. Keep on Trucking

  27. While the mystical part of me relates to and admires Theresa, I definitely identify with Martha, who while practical and living with the demands and challenges of real life still sees Jesus real and whole.

  28. If you think about it, was Therese that much different from Martha? Once she knew that she wanted only, and with all her heart and being, was to join the Carmelites, she was a girl with a mission! Mother Superior says "No!"? Next Stop, the Pope! What? He says "No!" Stage a sit-in! That said, I still feel a closeness to, and great empathy for martha, and so, she got my vote!