“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” (Lk 10:41-42).
Many deacons get to enjoy fuller and more in depth discussions regarding this reading than do priests, as many of us are married and the greater majority of priests are not. My wife JoAnn and I have had a few spirited exchanges on this Gospel each time it arises. A possible reason is that at first reading it may appear that Jesus is not showing any empathy and regard for not only Martha’s gift of hospitality, but also all the work she is doing while all the men are sitting around listening to Jesus with Mary doing the same, and who is left to do all the work – Martha.
It is not only deacon’s wives who carry extra weight and burdens in support on the home front to allow their husbands the time to serve, (Just the time it takes for me to write this daily post is less time I am spending with JoAnn or less time that I have to devote to the needs of our home) but many wives who are full time homemakers, run in home businesses, or carry a job outside the home, as well as caring for the children, overseeing the bills, the day to day grind, find themselves at times, rightly so, underappreciated, undervalued, and not respected for all they do.
To all husbands reading this, WE definitely can to do a better job of being present, more patient, respectful and attentive to our wives and be more of an equal partner in our journey. All of us, female or male, could also be better served if we follow this pattern of attention and priority: God is to be first, then our vocation to marriage and family must come second, then work, then our vocation.
With that said, I do not believe that Jesus was disregarding Martha. Especially in the Gospel of Luke, there are many instances in which Jesus empowers women so far beyond the cultural reality of the time period. We read this account from our twenty first century mind set. Contextually, the men sitting at the teacher’s feet in a different room, the women cooking and most times eating separately was commonplace for those in the first century AD. The only person out of step was Mary.
This could provide a possible consideration at the root of Martha’s anxiety. It may not have been so much that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen, but because she was breaking the social norm of sitting with the men. When Martha calls Jesus to redirect Mary, she probably expects him to support her plea. Yet, Jesus acknowledges that “Mary has chosen the better part” of sitting and having her primary focus be on him and addresses Martha from the perspective that she is anxious about many things. I can visualize Martha being taken aback at first, but slowly seeing the muscles in her face relax, and then taking her apron and throwing it off to the side and then sitting down next to Mary.
You may or may not agree, but there is consistent evidence that beyond the Twelve, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, were Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus came four days after the death of Lazarus, it was Martha who came out to Jesus, not Mary, and in that exchange, it was Martha who made the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (cf Jn 11:27). She would not have had this insight, the same as Peter, who Jesus said only knew this through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, if she was still holding a grudge over the dinner.
Also, Jesus who had compassion on the 4,000 and the 5,000 such that he fed them all with a few loaves and fish, would he not have compassion on Martha? Jesus also washed his disciples feet at the last supper, would he not step up to assist with the meal, the clean up, would he leave Martha hanging? Ultimately, this is speculation as we don’t know, but we need to read the sayings and actions of Jesus in the full context of the whole of Scripture, not just one pericope.
Today’s reaction and push back from this scene is not so much a reflection on Jesus, but how poorly men have emulated Jesus in our interactions with women. When women are guided from Scripture to honor their husbands, that is only the half of it. Men are also commanded to honor their wives as Jesus does the Church. Women of all ages, young and old and everywhere in between, are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. No one has the right to demean, disparage, devalue, or exploit any woman. Instead, they are to be appreciated, heard, respected, understood, and valued.
And let us not forget the vocation of single women, who were instrumental in the beginnings of the Church and continue to be so today! By all accounts, I believe Martha and Mary were single women. They were close friends with Jesus, that is no small thing. The gift of the Church, and when we are at our best, is when we recognize the gifts, contributions, and value of each of our members, men and women alike. When we embrace the diversity in our midst and empower one another.
Let us meditate on this image today: Martha, Mary, and the other disciples present, sitting in communion, Jesus as their primary focus. They are learning directly from him how to live as contemplatives in action. When we recognize that we are anxious about many things, let us not take out our anxiety out on one another, but come and sit at the feet of Jesus, breathe slowly, let the anxiety dissipate, seek his guidance, and begin again. Let us be sure to tell those in our realm of influence that we love them. Jesus is to be first and foremost in our life. May we not criticize and judge one another but: “Encourage one another while it is still today” (Hebrews 3:13).
May we also pray today for those individuals and families who are anxious about many things because they or a family member may be: contemplating an abortion, are homeless, struggling with an addiction, living in an abusive situation or recovering from abuse, in fear that one or more of their family members may be deported, and/or recovering from the affects of natural disasters.
May we also pray for those who suffer everyday concerned that a family member may not make it home because they are serving in the military, as police officers, firefighters, or EMT’s. May we also pray for the thousands of refugees, migrants, and immigrants throughout the world who would love to find themselves in a kitchen with a home, instead of wondering if they will have enough food to eat or if they or their children will live to see another day.