This Gospel doesn’t go in the direction I would have ended it myself. I’m a Martha. I’m totally a Martha, if not by nature than certainly by nurture. I was raised with the mentality that hard work wasn’t just a good thing, it was the only option for how to live your life. When I was a teenager, for example, on Saturday mornings my dad, rather than come and wake me up, would just happen to vacuum my room at eight am. This would be followed by, “Oh good, you’re awake. Get yourself ready, we’re going to Grandma’s to do yard work.” So when Martha says, “there’s a lot of work to be done, Lord, tell my sister to help me” me internal thought is, “yeah, Mary’s being a jerk, she should be helping her sister.”
And beyond my personal character, Martha has a lot backing her up in the scriptures. Hospitality to the traveler was a very serious expectation in the ancient world, and especially in the Jewish world. In our first reading we heard about Abraham welcoming travelers into his home. He runs out to greet them, begs them to come to his tent, bathe their feet, and rest. He tells his wife Sarah to knead dough and make bread, he picks the finest steer for feast, and even waited on them as a servant while they ate. That’s a lot of work. What Abraham doesn’t know is that these three men are angels, and they announce Abraham will have a son when they return next year. So Martha is not too far off base in thinking that she has a lot to do, and that it’s a good and right thing for her to be busy about.
But that’s not the thought of Jesus. He praises Mary and says that she has chosen the better part. Now I’d like to point out that he didn’t say Martha chose a bad part, just that Mary chose the better part. So what is the better part?
Martha set her energy to welcoming Jesus into her home. Mary set her energy to welcoming Jesus into her heart. Mary had taken the posture of a disciple by sitting at the feet of Jesus, and the Gospel says that she listened to him speak. In contrast Martha is burdened, or that word could also be translated as distracted. Jesus tells her she is anxious, and elsewhere in the Gospel in the parable of the sower he talks about how anxieties can choke the Word and prevent it from growing. Mary really has chosen the better part, because she knows that she needs to anchor the foundation of everything that she is in that listening, in that relationship with Jesus.
So going to my grandmother’s to do yard work… what was the foundation of that? Was it so that we could have pride and arrogance as we compare our yard to the neighbors, or was it so that grandma could know that we cared about her in a language that she understood? Did we work in the yard and leave, or did we talk with grandma and listen to her during the visit? The answer decides whether we chose the better part, whether we began with listening to Jesus.
Take the good works of your lives and ask why you really do them. They are good, don’t stop doing anything that is good. But ask yourselves if you have chosen the better part in them. If your motivations and your intentions can be more pure. Sit at the feet of Christ, listen to His words and reflect on your knowledge of the Gospels. Put Him at the heart of what you do and every motivation you accept.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.