I am a Mary at heart, a Martha by trade.
Today’s feast of St. Martha has me thinking of both of them and the tug within each of us: the longing for intimacy with God and the pressing needs of life. I don’t need to repeat the story of the two sisters. It can even be cliché sometimes. But I can’t help but think that Martha was more than just a stereotype of busyness and worldly preoccupation. She was a good woman who deeply loved the Lord, too, and desired to serve Him. To serve Him the way He deserved.
Surely, if God was coming to dine at our home, we wouldn’t serve leftovers. We’d throw the dishes in the dishwasher, the socks in the hamper, and the crumbs in the wastebasket. We’d light a scented candle. We’d hang fresh hand towels. We’d turn the sofa cushions to the clean side – ok, the cleaner side. We’d whip up some chips and dip. Who can really blame Martha?
But what does Martha ask? “Lord,” she says, “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Do you not care?
Jesus is so gentle in his rebuke to her complaint against the sister sitting at His feet: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” He acknowledged. He knew. He saw. He sympathized. He cared. Not just about her to-do list but about the storms inside her spirit. I can imagine the tenderness with which He called her name – twice. And I think it must have not only humbled her, but stilled her, too. I don’t know that she dropped her dish towel and joined Mary on the floor at that moment. I suspect she turned slowly back into the kitchen, pondering his tender reminder. And somewhere, sometime, she too came to listen.
Maybe that night, after the work was done, she sat with Him in the garden, weary and humbled and ready. Maybe she said softly, “Teach me now, Lord. Teach me how to choose the good portion when there is so much to do. Teach me to order my life so that I may serve You well but listen to You first. Help me.”
We don’t know what passed between them, but we can guess. We can guess because it is what He says to all of us, when we pause long enough to ask. We can guess because it is what He has taught us over many years of practicing and and learning to pray. We wonder if He didn’t teach her that when she prayed, she must first bring all those “many things” to Him, and then He must have shown her how to pray always. To linger with Him in her heart, no matter what her hands were doing. To bring His words into her home and His love into her hospitality. To put the One Thing in it’s proper, primary place – which is sometimes right in the middle of the many.
But then He would leave them and these two sisters would have much to ponder, and soon, so very much to suffer. The next time we see them, their beloved brother Lazarus has died. They had sent word and waited in anguish for Jesus, who incredibly does not come. Finally, when it seems to be too late, Martha hears that Jesus is near.
Martha is never one to sit around.
She leaves her home and goes out to Him, filled with grief but even more with faith – and she tells Jesus, I imagine through tears, that He could have saved her brother, that He can still save him, that she believes in the resurrection, that He is the Resurrection, that He is the Son of God. She clings to and proclaims steadfastly everything she knows about Him, everything she heard.
Because Martha had listened, too. And she had believed. And what she does not ask this time is “Do you not care?” She has learned the answer.
And then, of course, she quietly gathers her sister so the miracle can commence.
What good new this is for us who are busy with many, many things. She is a Saint for those of us who must listen from the doorway, sometimes – or the sink, or the washing machine, or the playground or the pediatrician’s office or the pick-up line. She is a woman who learned to drop her demands and embrace her vocation.
She is a woman who lived action, learned contemplation, loved Jesus.
Marthas of the world, take heart. You bring Christ into the messy crevices of the everyday. You image a God who ‘sets a table before’ us, and you do it because you love Him so very, very much.
St. Martha, pray for us.