Martha and Mary in Conflict
16th Sunday Ordinary Time
July 17, 2022
I truly love the realism in Sunday’s gospel about the story of Jesus’ good friends Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Like so many of us have done, Martha and Mary have invited someone they loved over to the house, in this case Jesus, and they each tried to make him feel at home in their own way: Martha cooks for Jesus and the disciples, and Mary listens. Or—from Martha’s point of view, Mary sits and does nothing while Martha does all the work!
In all honesty, I have always had more sympathy for Martha than for Mary. After all, someone had to cook lunch, serve the drinks, put out the appetizers, and perform the other customary acts of hospitality. Meanwhile, what is the other sister doing, in Martha’s opinion? Absolutely nothing! As far as she is concerned. Mary is just sitting around and letting Martha get stuck with all the housework. You can just imagine the tension and resentment building up inside that kitchen as Martha’s mind starts to churn: Why isn’t my sister helping me? She is so lazy! I know what Jesus needs! It isn’t fair that she is just sitting in the living room. Why is Mary being so self-centered?
Which of us hasn’t encountered some free-loader or do-nothing in our family or work environment? Every time I hear this gospel, I get just a bit ticked off at Mary. Yet here we find Jesus taking Mary’s side of the argument, not Martha’s. Mary has got everything right this time, and the reason is that she is the one who actually knows what Jesus wanted. Poor Jesus, all he wanted from his friends in Bethany was a place to get away from the crowds and relax with some people he was comfortable with. Mary instinctively knows this. Martha thought she knew what Jesus wanted; but in fact, what she was doing was all about her needs, her service, and ultimately, her resentments.
What matters to Jesus in our own walk of faith is not so much the things that we think we need to do for Jesus, but the choices Jesus really wants from us. For example, we always want to be healthy so we can serve the Lord better, when what Jesus may need from us at this moment is to accept our infirmity graciously. We may have made great plans for the day and are ready to give all our time for the Lord when an unexpected setback (or “opportunity”) arrives that upsets the apple-cart. Jesus is glorified by our acceptance of his will rather than being overly attached to our own will. Martha and Mary still have so much to teach us today, because both of the attitudes these friends of Jesus exhibit, in fact, live inside each one of us.