Many of us can understand and perhaps even identify with Martha and her frustrations. However much we understand, today’s gospel isn’t about the fair sharing of household tasks; nor is it solely a lesson in misdirected hospitality. The story of Martha, Mary and Jesus offers a lesson in genuine discipleship. If Martha represents the disciple in active service, Mary exemplifies the disciple in quiet contemplation. Rather than think of some disciples as Martha’s and others as Mary’s, this story suggests that every disciple is to integrate both Martha and Mary ~ both service and prayer.
Mary’s choice of the one thing or the “better portion” meant that she was ready to seat herself at Jesus’ feet and listen to his words. Within that attitude of openness to Jesus, the seeds of true discipleship can take root. Only one who has become a hearer of the word can truly become a doer of the word.
Martha wished to honor Jesus by hosting an elaborate meal for him but Jesus tells her that only one thing is required. Some suggest that the “one thing” Jesus recommended may have referred to one dish – a simple meal that would have freed Martha from her frustrations and allowed her to enjoy her guests. Perhaps the “one thing” may have been for Martha to recognize Jesus as the host of that meal who wished to feed those present with the words of life.
The conversation between Martha and Jesus recalls an earlier exchange between Jesus and the crowds. Informed that his mother and brothers were outside wishing to see him, Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Martha and Mary together, represent the qualities of hearing and doing, praying and serving, calm quiet and purposeful activity that constitute authentic, healthy, holy discipleship.
In a society that revels in 60 to 70 hour workweeks and wears the title “workaholic” like a badge of honor, today’s gospel presents a challenge of balance… balance work with play, and prayer with service. It’s been said that Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, meanings and values are often distorted. Relationships disintegrate faster than they can be repaired, and our lives resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.
Believers can aspire to be like Mary and Martha, integrating all we have learned, listening at Jesus’ feet, with all that we are called upon to do in the service of others.
Ever think of a January cruise in the Caribbean? Join Fr. Dennis departing Phoenix in January, 2017 ~ that’s coming up fast ~ for a 7-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Plan ahead. This trip has space available at a low price, but once the departure date gets closer, the price will change… Pick up information in the parish office. See Fr. Dennis for more information.