July 20/21: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C: Luke 10: 38-42)
“Mary has chosen the better part …” (Luke 10: 42)
Thanks a bunch … I mean, all of the work that I do, the hours that I put in, and the things that I do for people. I mean, honestly, I really do not want to hear this. I know that I should not be so busy, so consumed with the details, and not so taken up with the minutiae … but if I do not do it, who will?
We have a lot of Martha’s in our churches and in our homes. And these people – including myself a lot of the time – well, we do not want to hear about Mary. It hurts to be told that we need to be more like her, and how she chooses to behave in this story. Good for her. Mary is able to receive the benefits of being able to simply drink in the spiritual benefits of being with the Lord; to be still, to meditate, and just be. But Mary is the beneficiary of all of the hard work that Martha is doing in order for her to receive this luxury. Without the Martha’s in our life – things might fall apart. Often, this is so very true. True hospitality means that we “inconvenience ourselves” in order that others may enjoy.
While Mary is seen as the heroine in this story – let us not forget the wonderful things about Martha. Martha is the one who confesses Jesus as Lord: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world” (John 11:27). It is this recognition of the Christ that sets up the path to the cross. Martha also is fulfilling her societal role that was prominent in her time and culture.
And we give thanks for the Martha’s who are in our midst in today’s world. While all of the Martha’s are not just women, when we are honest we must admit that most of them are. Especially in the Church, yes? Think about it. If it were not for the women in our Church, we really would fall apart. So, let us not offend Martha. We need Martha. We keep looking for Martha’s to help us to survive.
But as the Church, we need to do more than just survive and rest easy that the many details are covered. It is not just that Martha needs to re-structure her priorities, or that she needs to pray and meditate more. Perhaps she does. Perhaps that is the case with many of us. But let’s dig deeper into the text. Mary is not literally sitting at Jesus’ “feet listening to him speak.” This is not a situation where all of the other disciples have taken up all of the seats on the couch and surrounding chairs. It is not that Mary is on an adventure of “lookin’ for fun and feeling groovy.”
This is not about praying and meditating more. What Mary is doing, is taking on the attitude of the one who aches to be a disciple. To sit at the feet of Jesus is an act of surrender that translates that we really do want to learn from the great teacher, that we are longing for wisdom, that we want to grow and be transformed. It is not about having “time for myself.” It is not about what is today often seen as “self-care,” as important as that might be. “Time for ourselves” and “self-care” is not what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. What we are called to do is to act and live like disciples. And as much as Martha may feel a bit of justified anger, Jesus does not allow her to pile that on to her sister.
What Jesus is making is an invitation to both the Mary’s and the Martha’s out there to receive “permission” to move outside of the cultural and gender expectations, to engage with the Christ that Martha later acknowledges. For their time and culture – it was only the men who were given such permission to explore such needs, to act as a disciple. Yes, we need people who are going to help administrate and organize, and thank God we have such people in the Church and in other corners of our lives.
It is simply this, however: let us not forget and lose sight of Jesus.
For so many of us who work in ministry, we take up so much time “talking shop” and submerging into discussions about Church politics, our pastors, the latest staff gossip, and the people in our communities that drive us crazy. We can get caught up in the many details and tasks that are our responsibility. But we can fall into the trap of the same clericalism that we often complain about when talking about the ordained – Martha is wearing the collar just like many of the clergy do. We can get caught up in the Martha “danger zone” where we talk around the margins of the Christian life, but fail in not running more often toward the center – which is the Christ. We become so distracted with the “job” our ministry, that we miss out on truly hearing and drinking in God’s Word. This seems to be what Mary is most concerned about – she is dedicated to getting as close to Jesus and his message as she possibly can.
However, in the end … this is not about Mary at all. Mary is doing just fine, as Jesus was able to free her to choose “the better part.” This story is really about Martha, and the hope for her liberation. Jesus loves her just as much as Mary, and so desperately wants her to not be so anxious and worrisome. He wants her to feel “groovy” in the most holy of ways – the way of discipleship.
Copyright © 2019 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer & Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved.