20 July 2013

On Martha and Mary; Or, Jesus Wants to Talk to You

The scene from today’s Gospel could have taken place in any of our homes: Martha rushes around to greet the honored guest and then prepare a favorite meal.  Meanwhile, Mary doesn’t pull her weight.  She plops herself down and talks up the visitor – a renowned prophet passing through Martha and Mary’s home as he travels with his disciples to Jerusalem. 
            After a period of biting her tongue, Martha finally throws her hands up in the air and appeals to Jesus: get Mary in here.  Have her help me!  Why are you letting her get away with this? It sounds, in fact, like a normal holiday in the Janeczko house.  Me, pressed into service before Thanksgiving dinner snapping the ends off of green beans, while my brothers studiously avoided any and all work (yet, I don’t deserve credit either – I’m complaining the entire time). Have them help me, I implore my mom.  The response: a point toward more green beans. 
Jesus, however, doesn’t shrug his shoulders, not does he correct the situation. Instead, Jesus takes the opposite tact.  He acknowledges that Martha is very busy and providing valuable help to all, but holds up Mary as an example to be imitated in this particular situation.  And just what is Mary doing?
Quite plainly, not very much.
            Of course, don’t misunderstand me: this Gospel does not teach us that we do doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t discourage hard work, ingenuity or even good hospitality.  Think about today’s first reading in which Abraham, by showing hospitality to unknown visitors, finds himself a father at a ripe old age: and the father of entire people – the People of God – to boot!
            Indeed, Jesus himself acknowledges that Martha is doing important work.  But at the same time he attempts to change Martha’s perspective, and in doing so, attempts to adjust our perspective too: yes, hospitality and preparation are important, yet only one thing is really important, really vital: to develop our own relationship with Jesus.
Jesus calls Martha to imitate Mary.  He calls us today to do the same thing: sit at the feet of Jesus and do nothing but listen. This is the brilliance – the absolute overwhelming power of the reality of the relationship we have Jesus Christ by nature of our baptism! When Jesus says that only one thing is necessary, what he means is that He is the only thing that is necessary for us.  The truly staggering reality of our lives as Catholics is that the first step toward discipleship is not something that we need to earn, something that we need to prove.  Instead, the first step of discipleship has already been taken by God through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is what Paul means when he speaks about “God [choosing] to make known the riches of the glory, of this mystery … [of] Christ in you.”  This is the Good News of the Gospel – the Good News of today’s Gospel as well as the great news of the entire Gospel.  Jesus saves us – we don’t need to do it ourselves. 
One of our greatest misunderstandings of God is based in the mistaken belief that our relationship with God starts with us.  Some say that economics is the study of scarcity in the world; to be in relationship with Jesus is totally different: our Catholic life is the study and reception of abundance!  When we worship God and allow God to fill our hearts with his presence, we do not find that there is less room for other people in our lives but more.  When we allow God to enter into our hearts, there is not less of God’s love available to others, but more, precisely because God’s love works through and flows into the lives of others: this is the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
God has called all of us – every single of us by NAME in BAPTISM -- into a specific, life-giving relationship whose endpoint is residence with God where every year will be wiped away.   Perhaps the best part is that the presence of God in our life is not equal to the amount that we deserve it.  Instead, the presence of God becomes more known to us, the more we allow God to make it known to us.  Plainly put, if we begin with service to the least of our brothers and sisters, they will lead us to prayer and a relationship with Jesus; if we begin with prayer, Jesus will undoubtedly lead us to the poor in order for us to make the love of God real for others.  
Today’s Gospel, as it always does, teaches us something about the need to listen to Jesus speaking directly to us: person to person.  At the same time, it also presents an incredible challenge.  It challenges us for just a moment to put the busyness of our lives aside, to acknowledge to the Lord that we are all “anxious and worried about many things,” just like Martha, but ask him to teach us at the same time that there is one thing that matters first and foremost in our lives: a relationship with Christ, the one through whom we exist and live and breath.
And so, just for a minute, let us put away the anxiety and the worries.  God has made the first, gigantic step forward toward us through Jesus: the second step is much easier, because it doesn’t require much.  All we need to do is the one thing that matters: sit down and listen. 

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