Today is the Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. This was a very special family to Jesus, and there are several stories recounted in Scripture of Jesus being with one or more of these three people.
There are two readings suggested – I chose the shorter one about Mary and Martha. The other reading was when Lazarus died, and Jesus raised him from the dead, calling him out of the tomb in front of a crowd of witnesses.
The one thing I’ll note from that reading other than the powerful words He spoke to Martha before raising Lazarus, which were:
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
…is that it was the “go, go, go” Martha who ran out to meet Jesus when she heard he was coming, not Mary:
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.”
What came to mind when I read that line, is how when faith is strong, being “physically present” is not necessary for miracles to happen. I suspect that the strength of Mary’s faith in Jesus, and her understanding of who He really is, and what He is capable of doing, made it unnecessary for her to lessen the wait for Him to arrive by running out to meet him. The more-anxious Martha couldn’t wait, however, and went to “make her case” with Jesus about her brother Lazarus.
That made me recall the time Jesus healed the Centurion’s son without going there, and the Centurion saying he didn’t need to go there, which Jesus held up as the kind of faith He wished his own disciples had:
The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell one to go, and he goes; and another to come, and he comes. I tell my servant to do something, and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those following Him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” [Matthew 8:9]
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve gotten nothing against Martha….and that’s a good thing (sorry).
I grew up in Kinkora, PEI, and attended a school beside a convent of Catholic teaching nuns” – and yep, they were the always anxious sisters of “St. Martha.” I’m not saying that there weren’t days that I wished one of them in particular would have stayed home like Mary, but for the most part, they weren’t a bad lot. So it troubles me when people rate Mary as somehow “superior” to Martha.
Why did Mary stay at home while Martha ran out? Scripture doesn’t say, but I suspect that it’s because the particular relationship that Mary had developed with Jesus was a deeper and more intimate one than that of Martha. She knew Jesus better than Martha. While Martha was out in the kitchen probably wondering to herself whether Jesus would prefer this or that, or whether he’d give her a compliment for her excellent food and service, Mary was quiet, listening to Jesus speak….Jesus, the “implanted Word who has the power to save our souls.”
That’s the better part:
To open ourselves to a constant awareness of the presence of Jesus, straining the silence with our attention to hear and receive the Word, Jesus, and keep it like a seed in our heart.
We “keep the word” by not forgetting it…i.e. “pondering it,” allowing it to take root and transform us into true children of God, resembling more and more our Lord and Savior and friend Jesus.
I saw a religious t-shirt once that said: “Love like Mary, But serve like Martha.” I don’t like that message that contrasts “love” and “service,” attaching one to Mary and one to Martha. They are supposed to both exist in all of us like they existed in Jesus. They go together, they’re not to be segregated and made into unique religious vocations where we see ourselves as either a “doer” or a “thinker and prayer”.
Martha loved Jesus (perhaps more than Mary, who are we to say?) and was clearly deeply loved by Jesus as well. Indeed, it was Martha who “welcomed” Jesus initially, and introduced Him to her sister and brother. What Martha was doing wasn’t the “issue”, i.e., serving and not sitting, so we shouldn’t be “rating” or comparing Mary and Martha at all, but focusing on what Jesus actually said to her.
Jesus didn’t say to Matha: “Stop doing what you’re doing – stop serving.” He simply told her to stop being anxious about doing what she was doing….and to stop being so bossy ordering Him to order Mary to stop doing what she was doing!
As I read it, I think that’s essentially what transpired…I don’t see where Jesus made any great declaration:
“And henceforth I declare: there will be ‘doers’ on one side who will do – I will call them “activists”; and lo, on the other, there will be non-doers who will live a sedentary life, sitting, waxing fat and praying – I will call them the “contemplatives.”
Nope. Don’t see that in today’s Gospel at all.
The better part is not to become a ‘contemplative’ instead of an ‘active’ person of faith [we’re to imitate the ‘entire’ Jesus, not just a part].
The better part is to recognize the core teaching of Jesus in this passage, which is, that no matter what we do, where we are, or how we “define” our vocation, the “better part” is to listen to Jesus.
Given the size of the house they were likely in, I would think Martha could just as easily been listening to Jesus as Mary, as she did her work, but what Jesus was saying was clearly not on her mind! That, I believe, is the issue: she wasn’t listening to him. Her “choosing the better part” didn’t necessarily mean that she had to stop doing what she was doing, to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary, just to “listen” like Mary!
If we don’t listen to Jesus, we’ll listen to something or someone else, and to be completely frank, given the intense spiritual warfare underway at the present time, where that is likely to lead us will likely not be good, so despite spiritual dryness, despite temptations to forget the painfuls truths we are living and just “have fun” in the summer sun in Anne’s land.
We need to remember the parable of the stunned virgins who had no oil in their lamps, take a deep breath, and ask the Father to pour forth his Spirit to give us perseverance and the resolve to do a lot more listening to Jesus, and a lot less fretting and complaining about what we think other people should be doing.
“Jesus, we ask that you speak peace to our hearts today and give us a calm sense of certainty and trust in Your constant mercy, love and protection. Give us intimations of the great joy and peace to come if we but remain faithful to You, testify to the truth, obey your commandments, love our neighbour as you love us, and seek always to do the Will of the Father in imitation of You.
Father, we ask that you touch the hearts of all your children this day and call them to somehow hear the words of your only begotten Son Jesus, and be moved to dedicate themselves to follow and imitate Him. Heal, oh heavenly Father, with an outpouring of your Holy Spirit, all the breaches in relationships and families caused by the evil propaganda dividing people with confusion and fear. Help us all to be more like Mary today, taking time to sit at the feet of Your Son, and listen to Him, as you told Peter, James and John when He was transfigured before their eyes on the mountain.” Amen.