Today at Mass, the gospel centered on Martha and Mary. I’ve heard the details hundreds of times, but I still enjoy the story.
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
What’s The Point?
In all the commentaries and homilies, the takeaway is pretty much the same. This story represents the tension between the active and contemplative life. We have to find a way to balance prayer and work. That’s a great message, but the words of Jesus don’t exactly make that point. I agree that Martha lost her focus and forgot why she was working so hard. As a result, she let herself become anxious and worried. But I also don’t see Jesus telling her to sit down and take a break. In fact, he told her that Mary made the better choice and he’s not going to force her to help. Doesn’t exactly sound fair, does it? When you’re entertaining, somebody has to do the work.
The Question Nobody Ever Asks…
As I was meditating on this story today, something popped into my mind. And, even though I have written and spoken about this gospel many times, this thought never occurred to me before. In order for the words of Jesus to make sense, you have to ask the question nobody ever asks about Martha and Mary…
What happened next?
Am I right? Think about it. Martha was bold enough to accuse Jesus of not caring and ordered him to tell Mary to help. Do you really think that she wouldn’t have a comeback when he told her that Mary chose the better part? With that in mind, here’s what I think she might have said.
“Okay, so who’s gonna do the cooking and serving if we all sit around listening to you?”
Let’s be honest, there wouldn’t be a meal if Martha was sitting beside Mary listening to Jesus. The food isn’t going to cook and serve itself!
Let’s try to imagine how Jesus would have answered. Here’s what I think he might have said.
“Martha, Martha, you are a very gifted cook and server. I appreciate all that you’re doing for me. Mary, on the other hand is a great listener, but she’s not that good in the kitchen. Just like you, she is using her unique gift to make me feel welcome. I understand that somebody needs to do the work and I appreciate what you’re doing for me. Maybe we could chat while you’re getting things ready. Then you wouldn’t be so stressed out.”
Martha didn’t necessarily need to stop working in order to get her focus back on Jesus. According to St. Paul, it’s possible to do both:
Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
Do Everything For Jesus
Everything you do can be done for Jesus. Preparing dinner, cleaning the bathroom, waiting on customers, changing diapers or working on the computer can all be offered to the Lord as a prayer. Keeping that in mind and remembering to chat with him as you work will increase your prayer time and decrease your stress level.
We’ll never know for sure, but I bet Martha eventually figured that out.