As I sit down to write this brief (but passionate) commentary, I have a vague idea on where my thoughts are going to take me, and I know it's not going to be good. I might even be a little irreverent. I am apologizing now, in advance.
So Mary and Martha. You know, the sisters in the bible in which Martha is the very essence of domesticity while Mary sits at Jesus' feet and lets her sister do all the work.
This story annoys me.
Believe me, I have tried to understand, and a few years ago I wrote a spiritually meaningful post on this very story in which I used my nightly ritual of turning on a lamp in every room to describe the relevance of the Martha-Mary story today. It was a nice commentary ... heartwarming and poetic. (You can read it here: Learning to be Mary in a Martha world).
So believe me when I say that I get it. Totally. I know that the story is about spiritual, rather than physical nourishment. I realize that it's a reminder of the heavenly banquet table, rather than an earthly one. I understand that we can't function like Martha if we don't try to be more like Mary. I get all that.
I would have liked to hear the story told from a woman's point of view because, believe me, I bet everyone was relieved when dinner was finally served.
And that meal didn't prepare itself.
And I think Martha gets a bad rap.
It seems as if every time this story is discussed Martha represents someone who puts her busyness in front of her faith; that she is running around trying to make everyone happy and comfortable while letting her (spiritual) self go; and that -- worse of all! -- she chooses to do so and is therefore forever known as the less spiritual sister.
Well, excuse me, but I'm with Martha on this one because in her I see someone who is an example of the practical aspects of our faith -- the hands on approach, if you will, of what it means to live stewardship.
I mean, is it better to pray for someone who needs a coat, or to give him one? Or, in Martha's case, is it better to let everyone sit around hot, dusty, hungry and thirsty, or to lovingly see to their needs?
And think about this: in the examples above, which actions are easier?
Then, during Mass last night our priest mentioned another angle of the story -- that of Martha's anger at her sister. He pointed out how we are all guilty of "flying off the handle" or "blowing things out of proportion." I never considered that angle. Let me think about that ...
Yup, guilty. Many times over.
Hello?!? You try to get dinner on the table for lots of (unexpected) guests.
Now, we don't know the rest of the story, but I just bet everyone eventually sat down to a nice meal (one that did NOT prepare itself) and that grumbling stomachs, parched throats, and heat-induced headaches disappeared all because Martha worked behind the scenes. And because their tired bodies were now nourished, everyone lingered to hear even more of Jesus' teachings.
So what do I REALLY think? Martha is the heroine. She is, after all, the one who greets Jesus -- As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him (Luke 10:38) -- and she is the one who provides for everyone's physical needs so that Christ's work could be done.
|Christ in the House of Martha and Mary|
-Johannes Vermeer, 1655