Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sympathy for Martha

I realize that not all my readers are religious, and we all hold different beliefs, so I usually don't address religion here on my blog except to share that I feel as though I've been blessed by my faith.  My approach to faith and religion is generally a practical one.  I think God wants us to be joyful, and to work to bring about His justice and kingdom on Earth.  The Church teaches that salvation is a mystery that we can't hope to understand, and it's not closed to anyone, and we are certainly not qualified to say who isn't in Heaven or isn't going there.  So I'm perfectly happy to let everyone believe just as they would like, especially if it nourishes their own spirits.

That said, I can't resist sharing this, as it's very much to do with homemaking and chores.

At Mass on Sunday, the Gospel reading was the story about Martha and Mary.  In case you don't know it, it goes something like this,

Jesus visits Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, a brother and two sisters that were His close friends.  While He is there, Martha is working hard preparing a meal and serving Him.  Mary, on the other hand, is seated at His feet talking with Him, and listening to Him speak.

Martha gets fed up.  She asks Him to make Mary help her.  She says, in effect, "Why should Mary get to sit around?  There are things to be done!"

And Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen a better path.  That it won't be taken from her, since she was wise enough to choose it.  That Martha is "anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing."

So, I've always felt kinda bad for poor Martha.  First of all, it's not like those things don't need to get done!  A house has to be cleaned and guests offered refreshments.  There are needful things in life, and people who must do them, as Martha realized.

Not to mention, she must have been very embarrassed.  How often have I found it difficult to offer appropriate hospitality because instead I've been choked with resentment of extra work, or being tired?  I'm sure this is a problem for everyone,  and we all try our best to overcome it graciously.  But sometimes our tongues get the best of us.  We snap, we judge, we blurt out what is immediately regretted.  Maybe it was that time of the month, or she had just had to do a lot the day before without help as well.... but whatever the reason, I'm sure she didn't really mean to make a big deal of it, she just responded impulsively to the last straw.

So, I feel for Martha.  Does that mean that I'm "anxious and worried about many things" that don't really matter?  Yes, sometimes, most certainly.  But are the things that don't matter really the housework, the baking, the offering comfortable hospitality to a guest?  I don't believe so.  I don't think Jesus was chiding Martha for her focus on earthly duties.  It's by earthly duties that we bring about the Kingdom of God.  I think He was chiding her for her unkind spirit.  Her preoccupation with fairness.  Her resentment of her sister, her work, and the whole situation.  These are the things that cloud us and keep us from seeing that "there is need of only one thing."

The one truly important thing?  Spending time with Jesus.  Listening to Him in our hearts.  If you're not Christian, think of it simply as refreshing your soul.  God's salvation and peace will work in your life and your heart if you give Him a chance.  Listen to the humming of the universe, and the clicking of nature.  Find your balance and place in it. 
 (I do recommend studying the teachings of the Church, if you are seeking.  Reading about the saints and reading their teachings will help.  The beautiful canticles that St. Francis wrote always give me a sense of balance and place.)

So, that's the important thing.  The one thing we all need to make all our chores and duties meaningful and worshipful.  A loving spirit, a joyful heart, these are the most important tools for the homemaker.  And in the calm quiet of my living room, on a day when I've woken up with energy and a cheerful outlook, and finished my most disliked and necessary chores early, it's very easy for me to think I can do that on my own.

But Jesus knew that when the hectic pace of a busy day, the million little unexpected tasks, the fifth day in a row of weeding the garden, only to have to start again at the beginning, the fact that husbands and children don't put things back where they found them, the fact that even we have a hard time replacing our things where they belong, the broken drinking glass, or sick cat, and unexpected phone call all add up to a cluttered, difficult day, then those distracting, weary and resentful thoughts will start to break our resolve.  And we will want to throw up our hands and say, "Why should I be doing this?  Surely, someone else is shirking and should be helping!"

This is why He reminded Martha, and us, that God is there to help.  That He is speaking, and our souls need to listen.  The work we do, if it is done in kindness and joy, with the intent to heal and help, to promote contentment and peace, is the work of God.  We will find Him in the quiet and the work both, if we seek Him.

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Mrs. Mordecai said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I definitely feel sympathy for Martha each time I read their story.

Mary said...

You said it beautifully!!

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

I've always felt just the same about Martha!

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