Martha, MarthaFr. Barnabas Powell
You’ve seen them. They rush around and work their fingers to the bone all the time doing a million things at once and accomplishing amazing things because of their industrious nature.
You’ve also seen them when they notice others aren’t nearly as “busy” as they are. Not all of them, but enough to make this story hit home, they will “point out” that “so and so isn’t helping nearly as much as he could, or “she was just sitting around and not helping at all.”
And that face, oh the face. A mixture of anger, pain, and satisfaction all rolled into one.
Yeah, you know this person. And you probably love them. I know I have folks in my life like this and I love them too. If I was truly honest, sometimes I’M THAT person!
There’s nothing so satisfying as feelings of superiority over someone else AND nothing more frustrating. “Why can’t they be more like me?” they ask, all the while oblivious to the seeds of spiritual poison growing in their hearts. Soon that poison, if left unchecked, grows into bitterness, anger, and even hatred. And all the good work done before becomes tainted with the sickness of a soul captured by self-righteousness.
This is what we discover today in today’s Gospel Lesson. Today is the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, and our Gospel Lesson invites us into a domestic scene between two very different but equally valuable sisters. The Lord is in one of His favorite places, the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus is sitting in the house teaching all who will listen and Mary is sitting at His feet soaking in the words of the Messiah. Her sister, Martha, is busy doing what any good hostess would be doing. She is tending to the many guests in her home. Finally, in a fit of frustration, she comes and actually confronts Jesus, insinuating He has been thoughtless. She tells the Lord “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me.” (see the whole lesson in Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28).
The Lord says to her “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Notice, the Lord doesn’t get angry at Martha. No, each of the sisters is doing good things, helpful things, but Martha suffers from the notion that Mary is “suppose” to act just like her. Mary is “expected” to choose the same priorities as her sister. But the Lord corrects Martha. He doesn’t scold her for her serving, not at all. He corrects her lovingly in her expectations of others.
Frankly, this is where many of us stumble. Our expectations of those around us mirror our expectations and even our fears of ourselves. We insist on putting burdens on other people we are close to that we, ourselves, don’t bear all that well. Our expectations are internal ideals unexamined by true love and mercy.
It’s interesting that one of the other women in the crowd cries out when she witnesses this exchange between Martha and the Lord “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” You can almost imagine what this lady is thinking “Hey, I don’t have to do all this kitchen stuff? I can sit and learn like the men do?” Well, who knows if this is what she was thinking, but regardless, the Lord leaves us in this Lesson with the center of the matter clearly laid before each of us today. He responds to this statement by saying “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
When all is said and done, it isn’t our expectations, it isn’t our self-righteous pride at our “accomplishments,” it isn’t even our doing what any normal person would do. It is the willingness to both “hear” and then “do” the Word of God!
Today, what makes our Blessed Lady so blessed and near to us isn’t her giving birth and feeding the Lord. It is her unwavering example of her willing heart to hear the Good News of the Messiah and then say “yes” to the calling on her life by God. And Mary’s laudable choice in sitting at the feet of Christ would have been for nothing had not Mary then gone on to follow the Lord the rest of her life and witness to God’s love by her actions.
As we celebrate the work of God in the Life of the Theotokos in preparing her life to become the “Mother of God” by having her raised in the Temple so that she could one day become the “Temple of God” by birthing Christ, let us be willing to become like our Lady in both hearing God’s Word and then doing it!