Martha and Mary: Hooda thunk?

Image source: Christian Art

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Scriptures for this weekend's liturgy)

Audio for homily

What’s going on in this story is fairly simple.
It happens in our own households all the time
and especially when company comes.
A guest arrives and somebody gets anxious and worried
- and somebody doesn’t.
And the worst case scenario
occurs when the person who doesn’t get worried and anxious
doesn’t even notice that someone else is anxious and worried!

Can’t you just imagine
the looks Martha is shooting in Mary’s direction?
But Mary is enjoying her conversation with Jesus so much
that she doesn’t even notice what Martha is doing at the table.
And keep in mind that Mary and Martha likely lived in a one room house!

Mary’s just hangin’ out with Jesus
and Martha’s fuming at the oven.
You have to figure that Martha was confident
that if she complained to Jesus he’d take her side.
But she was wrong.
Jesus sides with Mary who hasn’t been helping her sister.
Hooda thunk?

Why would Jesus say then that Mary had chosen the better part?
Perhaps because Martha’s choice had led her
to anxiously worry about herself
while Mary’s choice left her listening peacefully to Jesus.

Now, certainly listening to the Lord and serving him are both good things.
But at least in this kitchen,
one choice led to worry and self-concern
and the other to Christ’s presence and peace.

Listening to Jesus speak in our hearts
will almost certainly lead us to serve him
by serving the hunger and needs of others.

And serving others’ needs can open our hearts to Christ within them
and to the peace of his presence there.

Both options have the potential for leading us closer to Christ.

What would it sound like if we turned the story around?

Imagine for a moment that it was Mary who came to Jesus
to complain about Martha.
Imagine Mary asking,
“Jesus, did you notice that Martha’s so busy in the kitchen
she’s can’t even take a few minutes to come and talk with you?”
And can you hear Jesus answering,
“Mary, Mary, it’s great that you’re here with me
but don’t be so critical of your sister.
I can see she’s pretty frazzled
but she’s getting dinner ready - and I’m hungry!
She’s doing a great job and she’ll join us soon enough
and then we’ll all get a chance to visit.

As with so many things in the Christian life,
it’s not either/or -- it’s both/and.

Where do you and I find ourselves in this story?
Would we have sat with Mary, listening to Jesus?
Or would we have got up and gone to the table to help Martha?
Either choice would have been a good one,
providing it led us closer to the Lord.

This morning we are baptizing William into the household of Christ.
As a Christian he will be called to sit at Christ’s feet and listen to him
and he will be called to serve Christ in the needs of others.
May William learn to sit with Mary and hear the voice of Jesus
and to work with Martha at the table of Christian service.

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  1. It is always an eye opener when we notice that the shoe is on the other foot, as you point out here by asking what if Mary had been the complainant.
    Mary has clearly choosen the better part, however, Martha's part was quite neccessary.

    On another note, the art you have shared in these last posts of Mary & Martha were enjoyable. Again, a different take on things proved to be very nice.

  2. Thank you so much for the unorthodox interpretation of the Mary and Martha story. I tend to be a Martha, and I hate feeling guilty about that! (On the other hand, I spent four days this past week/weekend at a contemplative prayer retreat and did not one iota feel guilty about missing work and seemingly "doing" nothing -- of course, I was not really doing nothing. Spending time with God is far from nothing.)

    I also want to let you know that my Blest Atheist blog went down, and I have decided to leave it down. I began a new blog, with a more fitting title now that some time has passed since my conversion: 100th Lamb. I have explained there what happened with BA and am slowing moving the old BA posts there. I am continuing the Monday Morning Meditation posts, along with the link to your Monday prayer. Thanks for letting me do that!

    I assume that the followers of the blog will return once they find out where it went! Some are starting to find their way back already.

    Have a blessed Sabbath, Father.

  3. PS. I guess I should not keep the URL for 100th Lamb secret: www.emahlou.blogspot.com.

  4. Thank you for turning the story around... I hope some day to understand why this story repeatedly tweaks at my heart, year in, year out.

  5. Really enjoyed this homily and also loved the way the Baptism of William was included. What a great way to personalize and teach!
    The Martha-Mary paintings and their interpretation have all been very interesting with lots of new perspectives to think about.


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