Choosing sides?

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino

by Fletcher Lowe

Mary and Martha: Remember them?  They were with their brother Lazarus when he died and was raised from the dead by Jesus.  At that point Martha exclaimed: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – one of the strongest affirmations of Jesus in the entire New Testament. We later find them at home with Mary at Jesus’ feet listening attentively to his words while Martha is busy at work in the kitchen getting dinner ready. In her frustration Martha confronts Jesus and Mary, aggravated by Mary’s lack of help.  Jesus’ response calls out Martha’s many distractions and worries: “There is one thing necessary, and Mary has chosen the better part.” Amidst her busy work, Martha had lost that focus she had when her brother was raised. Is this a case of either/or, either contemplation or action? Or can it be both/and?

Several years ago, my wife and I worked with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in East Africa and Calcutta, India.  Theirs was very  much a Martha world: Hard work emotionally, physically, spiritually.  But it was balanced by their Mary: Early morning Eucharist, communal noontime and close of the day prayers, not to mention the individual spontaneous prayers said for those they were caring for. Their Martha busyness was balanced t by their Mary devotion.

Is that not our calling as well? We are very much Martha people.  We live busy lives in a busy world.  We multitask and check our smart phones for the next thing to do. It is easy for us to lose our Mary focus. But we have – and can expand – that Mary side. We honor her Jesus focus by corporate prayer on Sundays and other times during the week, as well as our individual prayer on a regular basis.  Then there are those spontaneous times: Putting the pause on the car radio to briefly say a word to God, or while watching the TV news and giving thanks for the Apollo 11’s safe moon landing and return, or offering a prayer of concern for those in distress.  And pausing to smell a flower or listen to a bird’s song or give thanks for a butterfly: Mary moments amidst our Martha lives. So the Mary/Martha story is not an either/or but a reminder for each of us in our busy daily Martha lives at home and community and work to honor our Mary side in our Christian journey.

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