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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

What we Learn from Martha and Mary

Saturday, July 29, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for 16th Saturday of Ordinary Time (A1): LECTIONARY 607 (1Jn 4: 7-16; Ps 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11; proper gospelJn 11: 19-27 or Lk 10: 38-42)

Saint Martha is best known for coming out second-best in the comparison Jesus made between her and her sister Mary in Luke 10:38-42. When Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to get up off the floor and help her take care of their guests, Jesus said, "Martha, you are uptight and worried about many things. Only one thing is essential. What Mary has chosen is better than what you are doing, and I won't take it away from her." For centuries this text has been used to argue that the "contemplative life" devoted to prayer alone is better than the "active life" of apostolic service.

The whole thinking on this is too mixed-up to be clarified here. You will find a good treatment of it in Fr. Thomas Green's book, Darkness in the Marketplace: The Christian at Prayer in the World (Ave Maria Press), chapter one.

All I can point out here is that Martha's problem was not that she was working too hard, but that she was "anxious and upset" about it. I believe it is true to say that what is opposed to prayerfulness in our lives is not work, but a preoccupation with finishing what we are doing. If all we want all day long is to do God's will, then we should be peaceful as long as we are doing whatever we think God wants us to do at the moment, whether we are failing or succeeding, and no matter how long it takes. This takes into consideration the circumstances: if someone interrupts what we are doing, and we judge that God wants us to pay attention to that person, then accepting the interruption gracefully is all we should be concerned about for the moment. Neither prayer nor service as such is the perfect life but doing God's will without reserves.

Actually, Martha's best lines in the Gospel are in John, chapter 11, when she unhesitatingly professes that Jesus is the Savior of the world. This is on a level with Peter's profession of faith in Matthew 16:16 and John 6:69. Martha is an example of prayerfulness and faith taking form in word and deed.

Initiative: Imitate Martha and Mary by doing what you are called to do at each moment.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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