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Posts Tagged ‘Martha and Mary’

Distractions and the Better Part

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

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Luke’s gospel story of Martha and Mary contains a variety of issues to choose from when trying to get the heart of what Jesus is saying.  There are a number of interpretations for this passage of scripture, so for beginners let’s look at several items of interest that can be argued.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with what Martha is doing.  Going about her assigned duties in the preparation or cleaning up after a meal is something we all do, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.  Secondly, there is not a polarization between Mary and Martha.  By this I mean the sisters have a very good relationship between themselves; the only other reference to them comes from John’s gospel where they mourn for Lazarus who has died.  Some believe there is a notion that this is strictly a gender issue dealing with allowing women to study and learn with the men.  But let’s now look at some other points and see where they will take us.

Most of us have been in the situation of hosting a dinner or party.  Being a good host or hostess requires us to do many tasks at once.  It is probably the best (and original) honest to goodness definition of what we today call multi-tasking.  Greet people at the door, prepare the meal, offer drinks and a seat, chase the dogs off the couch so there IS a place to sit, clean up spills, set the table, serve the guests, and chase the dogs out from under the table; this is only a partial list of things that sometimes involves just one person during the course of an evening with company.  Even with two people there is always the possibility of forgetting something.  We can easily relate to Martha who, by the way is probably the home owner.  The opening line says she welcomed Jesus into HER home.  When we invite people into our homes we can so often become wrapped up in what the chores are that we lose sight of the hospitality side of things.  We can even go as far as seeming to ignore the friends we welcome.  So we are not to assume or misinterpret that Jesus is telling Martha to stop what she’s doing, the chores can wait, or that Mary is doing the only thing necessary.  He says she is doing the “better part”; the word “part” being essential here.  Listening to the words of Jesus is essential and foremost, but He reminds us that He is the most important part of the hole, not the sole attention of our acts.  If that were the case nobody would ever get anything done because we’d all be sitting around listening to each other talk about Jesus.  We can identify with this situation in our church life.  We would lose focus of where all of our energy is to be spent if we are looking at who we are serving or leading and what the end result is for them, the actions take over and we begin to make the program our idol.  Each of our programs then becomes the center of attention and the person or persons we start out to help become a by-product of the system.  There should always be a focus no matter how many things are on our agenda.  At our most recent diocesan convention, there was a resolution to begin each meeting – regardless of what it is – with the question “What actions will we be taking during our meeting here that effects the poor?”  When we sit back and think about that it puts things in a different perspective than jumping right into reports and figures and assignments.

Jesus puts it this way.  He says “Martha, you are distracted by many things.”  The only thing to do is keep his teaching and words in front of our actions.  When we take our eyes and ears off of the sacred, necessary chores become dull and bothersome.  It’s as if our way of doing things have been reversed, or turned upside down where we’ve somehow placed the better part at the bottom of our “to-do” list.   A perfect example of this would be the story of Brother Lawrence.  Brother Lawrence lived in France during the seventeenth century.  He grew up poor and so at the proper age he joined the military where he knew he’d always have food and shelter.  One day he was resting under what appeared to be the lifeless limbs of a tree in winter.  It was one of those instances that place an indelible mark on your soul.  In a vision he recognized his own seemingly dead life could be awakened if he only sought to bring God into his own life.  Shortly after he was injured, eventually had to quit the army, and so joined a monastery in Paris.  Having no great skills outside of being a foot soldier, Brother Lawrence was placed in the kitchen to wash the pots and pans and clean the floors.  He immediately set himself to work praising God for giving him this job, and soon even the filthiest of chores became a delight for him as he was able to find God in the presence of it.  He knew that every act, regardless of how mundane, could be a medium for God’s love, and he dedicated every act of his with these words; “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  This, I believe, is what Jesus is telling Martha to do.  Do things for the love of God.  Embrace all that we do as an act of prayer.  If we could do this in just a portion of our lives imagine how much peace we would find and how much aggravation we would avoid.  For years I personally viewed St. Paul’s conviction to “pray without ceasing” as something unattainable for the ordinary people we are.  That was while I was being like Martha, and allowing the multi-tasking to distract me.  But the less I allowed things to distract me, the more I could then focus on keeping God and the body of Christ as the head of my household, and the easier some things became.  The challenges don’t vanish into thin air, the same things come along in life as they always did, but by keeping Christ first and reacting in faith that God is with you, somehow makes things easier to get through.

Finally, you know I’ve mentioned a few other times how I’m learning so much from Luke’s gospels on how his words were intentionally written for the “least of these.”  Not only does he have Jesus intentionally praising women for wanting to learn, he places Mary in a position to listen attentively, something that mostly men would be doing in that era.  And of course he also has brought his teaching out of the synagogue into public squares and now brings it into a humble home showing that there is no place that God’s word does not belong.  So as we go about our normal business for the day, as we head out of our houses this week to go to work or play or whatever our plans are, let us not forget that our first action should be keeping God as the better part of the day.   Let us not get distracted by the clutter, or the clanging of pots and pans, or the blare of the neighbors TV, or the barking of dogs chasing the cat back upstairs where they think he belongs.  Let us pray first for the guidance and presence of our Lord in all of our actions and reactions and ask for help in remembering to do whatever is the “better part.”  Amen

Luke 10:38-42

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