Psalm 59: Did Martha Pray It?

Memorial of Saint Martha

July 29, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of St. Martha, we pray with Psalm 59.

The psalm is introduced with an interesting phrase: a miktam of David, when Saul sent people to watch his house and kill him. 

The meaning of the word mitkam is unclear, but the meaning of the rest of the phrase is abundantly evident. David felt threatened by the forces of King Saul who surrounded his house day and night awaiting an opportunity to attack him.

The psalm bemoans that situation. In two complementary stanzas, the psalmist asks God for victory and deliverance. Each ends with a refrain of praise and gratitude.


As I pray this psalm today, my mind goes to a house in Bethany. Three siblings live there who are friends of Jesus. Each loves Jesus in her or his own way, according to their personalities. 

The Gospels give us a vivid perception of Mary’s love. We can easily imagine the immensely grateful love of resurrected Lazarus. 

Then there is Martha of whom we know so little. A woman who found comfort in creating a hospitable home. A woman who commanded a well-functioning kitchen. A woman who, silent except for her famous sisterly complaint, let her works speak her love.

As their friendship with Jesus grew, and as Jesus became more notorious to the Jewish leaders, their little house no doubt became the object of inimical fascination.

Jesus’s enemies watched him, but that also watched his friends, frightening many away from Jesus’s side.

As this reality intensified, perhaps phrases of Psalm 59 rose in Martha’s heart as she prayed:

Rescue me from my enemies, O my God;
from my adversaries defend me….
… For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
mighty men come together against me,
Not for any offense or sin of mine, O LORD.

We can only guess what this little family suffered in order to be Jesus’s friends, both during his lifetime and by their witness in the subsequent early Christian Church. But by faith, we can be certain they rejoiced in the Divine Gift these sufferings brought them.

But I will sing of your strength
and revel at dawn in your mercy;
You have been my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of distress.
O my strength! your praise will I sing;
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
my merciful God!

Let us pray today to be, like Martha of Bethany, devoted friends of God.

Poetry:  You, neighbor God – Rainer Maria Rilke

You, neighbor god, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.
Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.
The wall is builded of your images.
They stand before you hiding you like names.
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.
And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

Music: Psalm 59 – Esther Mui

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